Written by Andrea Behling, Andrew Bayliss and Jessica
Upon visiting RollingStone.com, the initial appearance of the site is crisp and professional. Sections and departments are organized neatly, with black copy on a white background and the iconic red Rolling Stone logo running across the top of the page.
Right under the title, each department is listed in a row. The top left corner of the home page allows the reader to view the current homepage, with articles from the most recent magazine, or click into a search of the magazine’s archives. A federated search box is in the top right hand corner. This allows visitors to search recent issues and historical archives simultaneously.
The home page of RollingStone.com.
The home page is built vertically in three columns. The news section is on the site’s left side and features the day’s top story, followed by stories listed in chronological order, with the most recent at the top.
In the center of the screen, a box of photos and titles of their corresponding articles, similar to Yahoo’s home page, scrolls continuously.
A list of new and “flashback” music videos, titled “The Mix,” is opposite the news feed, on the right side. Other sections include photos, lists (such as “The 25 DJs That Rule The Earth”), the current issue, videos (news and documentaries, not music), reviews and movies & television.
Two designs are used for the departments’ pages. Politics and reviews both use a simple list of their most recent stories. The other departments are designed like the home page. The photo and video sections have their own design, emphasizing a box that scrolls through the latest and greatest pictures and videos.
Overall, the design of the homepage is nothing spectacular. However, the ease of navigation and generous use of photos are huge positives. In case of a huge breaking news story, such as the death of Michael Jackson, the web site may have to create a special design, because it is not built as a hard-news website.
For instance, the Huffington Post will often display a huge headline on its homepage that makes viewers immediately recognize what the day’s top news story is. RollingStone.com is built to complement the biweekly magazine. News is broken on the website, but usually small stories such as “Shakira’s Ex-Boyfriend Sues for $100 million” that can be relegated to the news feed.
The home page of www.huffingtonpost.com on Dec. 2, 2012.
Rolling Stone’s mobile website is completely different than the full website. Whereas the complete website is not focused on breaking news, that is the mobile website’s primary focus. Latest news and videos are at the top of the mobile website, which has a simple design.
A news-first approach to the mobile site is sensible, because those visiting from phones are most likely not looking to read a big feature article. Plus, when they are, the option of going to the full site is available at the bottom of the mobile homepage.
Social media does not appear to be a main concern of the site. The ever-present Facebook and Twitter icons are available on the home page, but blogs seem to be a bigger area of promotion for RollingStone.com.
Blogs is one of the departments listed on top of the home page. A list drops down, revealing links to four writers’ blogs, a political blog, a technology blog and a fashion blog.
Once a visitor clicks goes to a blog, the option of following that specific writer or department on Facebook or Twitter appears in a sidebar.
Of Rolling Stone’s four most popular writers, David Fricke (music reviews), Peter Travers (movie/television reviews), Matt Taibbi (politics) and Rob Sheffield (music, movies, pop culture), only Sheffield utilizes social media on a regular basis. He sends out an average of two or three tweets per day, while the others may go days, or even weeks, between tweeting.
Rolling Stone’s audience is defined by their longevity. The magazine itself has been a piece of Americana journalism for nearly 50 years, with each generation discover what the generation before them had discovered: that Rolling Stone is the hip magazine to read. The audience is long tail in a unique perspective. Those who read Rolling Stone online are the same people who will be the magazine in stores as well. Those who read Rolling Stone are dedicated users, who are brand loyal, and read multiple articles that vary in a wide range of topics. Rolling Stone does not specifically say on the website who their main target audience is because they already have a built in audience they know will stay loyal to them. That’s why the magazine has stood the test of time.
Rolling Stone has interesting concept relating to paywalls. A lot of the material readers see in the magazine are present online as well. However, in order to get the entire spectrum of content given in the current issue, readers are given the option to subscribe to all access: Rolling Stone. If a reader signs up for the all access membership, they get a subscription to the magazine, archives, and all of the content from the current issue available online. The magazine offers its best deal at 0.50 cents an issue, or 78 issues for $38.95. It was reported in 2011 by publishingexecutive.com that the magazine had seen a major jump in advertising revenue, mostly due to the summer rock festival season. Ad pages have increased from 158.2 ad pages in the 2010 March issue, to 221.2 in the March 2012 issue.
I would dare say that the Rolling Stone website is the corresponding media outlet next to the magazine. The magazine is what started the rock journalism trend in the 1960s, and the online presence of the magazine only increased this level of cool to its readers. A lot of the feature stories on the website are much shorter than those featured in the print magazine. A feature story runs about 7 pages in the magazine, but online can only be a few paragraphs or maybe two pages if it is a cover story. Rolling Stone’s bloggers live and breathe online content, and generate opinion pieces that enhance the rock tone of the magazine as an entire medium. A lot more Internet videos are used on the website, including movie critic Peter Travers have is own video section where he can connect with his print readers through video. Content on the website is much shorter and to the point, including many list articles and videos.
Multimedia is integrated into the text through links, links, and more links. Each article has a corresponding link to another related Rolling Stone article. This gives readers a sense of credibility to what they are reading, and it shows the author of the piece knows his history on the subject he is writing about. Text is integrated into multimedia through captions for videos. Each video on the website has a lengthy paragraph describing what the video is about, and what you may hear from the interview subject. The videos are much more intimate than YouTube videos, and the subject matter the video can go to is much more personal, and can be PG-13 rated instead of PG. Their media player is not linked to YouTube at all, but is simply created by those affiliated directly with the magazine. Multimedia is key online in order to have visitors want to see more in text in print.
The Rolling Stone’s most recent website update came in April 2010. What was a big deal for the magazine, but less of a big deal for the audience, was that the new website would be controlled internally. Before, RealNetworks controlled the magazine’s online presence, but the contract expired. The biggest update that came with the reveal: access to archived content all the way back to 1967. Nothing like old content being the front lining feature for a brand new website. Although the re-design reveal may have been anticlimactic, Fact Company said it was long-needed in a review.
Rolling Stone magazine has had a bad track-record when it comes to message boards. First launching the message board forum in the late 1990’s the website generated a growing community of regular, worldwide contributors. Due to an Internet troll and hacker problem, the site deactivated the message board feature in May 2004. In an attempt to fix the problem, a more limited message board was reactivated in late 2005, only to be removed again, a year later. A third attempt in March 2008 produced the same results, and was deleted in April 2010.
Hyperlocal content is not a specialty of the magazine overall, but the federated search option, which searches both the website and the archive, gives online readers better search engine results for articles related to a specific location.
Rolling Stones does modify and revise its content from the print versions to the web version. One example had to do with a misquote in a blog and the correction ran like this:
When it comes to sharing articles on social media, the website makes it visible and easy to share content. It shows you the numbers at the top of each article, in an attempt to persuade you to do the same. Commenting is activated for all online content, except reviews. It
Screenshot of a Rolling Stone correction.
gives you the option to post a review of the song, movie or album being reviewed, yet no comment box is provided. None of the recent reviews have any comments at all. When it comes to sourcing, the Rolling Stone uses hyperlinking for secondary sources. When they do have one, the hyperlink format reads, for example, “The New York Times reports”. The blog posts are filled with external links which are shown as key highlighted words.
The site obviously has yet to master the message board option online. This is an area the website could work to bringing back, for a fourth and final time. Possible corrections could mean a stricter enforcement of comments, a more intense sign-up method or a better system to block hackers and virus spreaders.
Another frontier the site has yet to fully address is the paywall problem. Will readers continue to pay for online content? Especially in the music industry, Rolling Stone could be the first domino in the line to revolutionize the niche music media industry. With growing competition in other smaller and even more niche publications and websites, the Rolling Stone has to take the lead of The New York Times and continue to prove itself as the forerunner.
The website should also continue to improve the free phone App and iPad App. The iPad magazine App was released earlier this year, but still seems very much like the print edition and doesn’t have any added features or content, sadly. Wenner Media, which has been slow to convert to tablet content, tested the waters with a Beatles special edition iPad App. Appadvice.com deemed the special edition as “underwhelming” and that “The Beatles deserve better”. Something closer to Popular Mechanics’ impressive interactive edition would be in the magazine’s best interest moving forward when it comes to a full-force interactive iPad App.