Paul Rossi, publisher of The Economist, began his presentation at this week’s Mediabistro Circus noting that he was a replacement speaker. “Ben Edwards [publisher of economist.com] is currently taking a very intensive Outlook Calendar course,” Rossi told the crowd in a charming, Hitchensian deadpan before preparing them for a presentation without “any pretty pictures,” as he hates PowerPoint.
Emphasizing the primacy of The Economist‘s commitment to the reader and “the reader’s expectation of what that little red box [designed in 1959 by Reynolds Stone, we might add] means,” Rossi noted that the magazine’s website offers little in the way of video (“We do a little bit, and it’s not very good, actually”) but does have an audio edition, which runs to eight hours. Why? Readers want it. “It’s very good for a long flight,” quipped Rossi. “You’ve asleep within 15 minutes.”
As for the ever-evolving look of economist.com, which Rossi said draws 20 million pageviews per month, it is “a rolling redesign. I don’t know what that means. I guess it means that you can’t figure out what you want to do, so you just keep changing things,” he said. Informing this ongoing process is reader feedback, and the site has received hundreds of reader comments on design issues, from highly specific complaints and praise to more general feedback, which tends to take the form of a single word: “Help!” This type of reader-commenter, said Rossi, compares their frustrations with economist.com to those in another area of their lives. “They say, ‘You’ve just done what my supermarket does…moved the yogurt around and now I can’t find it.'”