The Web's two oldest publications, Suck.com and Feed, ceased publishing on Friday after their parent, Automatic Media, laid off most of its staff. Automatic, like hundreds of other less long-lived Web operations, was the victim of the online advertising slump that has accompanied the economic downturn in the US.
Feed aimed to be a thoughtful journal tackling big ideas in culture and science, while Suck.com, launched by two Wired magazine employees can claim to be the Web's longest-running daily column. Both were created in 1995, a time when few people had email and e-commerce didn't exist.
Automatic also published two newer sites: Plastic, a discussion board dissecting the day's media, and Altculture, an "online encyclopaedia of contemporary culture" focussing on the offbeat.
Joey Anuff, editor-in-chief of Plastic and one of the creators of Suck.com, said in a message on the site that the reason for the shutdown was simple: "We just ran out of money." He said the editors would continue publishing occasionally and looking for a way to keep the publications going. "For the time being, it'll all be on our own dime, for love not money, and so forth," Anuff wrote.
Suck was one of the Web's earliest success stories. Started Wired staffers who hid behind pseudonyms, it was an instant hit with the dot-com crowd, mercilessly satirising Silicon Valley and later US culture at large. The unknowns later sold the site to Wired for a substantial sum and expanded rapidly, a pattern later followed by dozens of other young dot-com entrepreneurs.
But by the time Wired was sold to Conde Nast, most of the glamour had worn off, and it was rumoured Suck would be no more. Instead, it was sold, with Wired 's Web site, to Terra Lycos. About a year ago Suck left Terra Lycos, joined with Feed and Altculture and formed Automatic Media.
Automatic was well-respected in the Web publishing business, receiving backing from Lycos Ventures and Advance Ventures, among others, and led by Lee DeBoer, the former president of HBO International, and its collapse will be taken as bad news for the Web content business. While many have tried, only a few online publications have ever managed to charge subscription fees; Slate.com, a Microsoft-backed venture, tried to do so for a few months but was forced to back down after plummeting subscriptions.
In a note on Feed's site, cofounders Stefanie Syman and Steven Johnson expressed regret that they had not been able to come up with a sustainable online publishing business model. "While we still very much believe that content on the web can support itself, Automatic Media is not able to succour us until we see that day," they wrote.
Plastic, which is largely driven by reader feedback, will continue under unpaid editorship. Sites like Suck.com and Feed brought the model of print publications online but were unable to sustain the burden of paid staff, while a site like Plastic -- as with the hugely popular tech commentary site Slashdot -- virtually generates its own content.
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