Is a Blog Post Without a Link Still a Blog Post?

How Vanity Fair Balances Newsstand Needs With Social-Media Demands

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Here's something you don't usually see near the top of a blog item: "Sorry, readers, no link." That was Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple as he discussed an upcoming Vanity Fair piece on his employer.

Credit: Conde Nast/Mario Sorrenti
What's this?! A blog post without a link is , to quote the bard, "like Martin with no Gina."

What looked weird in pixels, though, is the result of a pretty usual practice these days by long-lead magazines to promote their print content. In a bid to drum up excitement for Vanity Fair's April issue, which hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles today, the magazine's PR team sent media writers an email about the Washington Post article. The email linked to an online PDF that shall not be named -- because the email warned, in bold and all-caps: "THIS LINK IS FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, IT IS NOT TO BE POSTED OR SHARED."

Rather than do a big dump of all the new stories as soon as the issue drops and obviate the need for anyone to buy it, the content is doled out in dribs and drabs over the course of the month. For those of you hoping there is some sort of process or perhaps even an algorithm behind this schedule, you will be disappointed.

"Every story is different. There's no formula," said a Vanity Fair spokeswoman. "We try different things all of the time."

This bit of sausage-making is interesting given the challenges before magazine publishers. Many have been underwhelmed by how much ad revenue they can pull in from posting their (often very expensive) print journalism on their website.

"We want people to buy the magazine," said the spokeswoman.

So this sort of schedule might make a lot of sense for business purposes, even if it's not going to endear you with the bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers so key to popularizing just about anything nowadays. It's a strategy that 's at cross-purposes with everything the internet is about.

Mr. Wemple caught some flak in the comments section and on Twitter for not sharing the link. You can kind of understand why he's not thrilled with the Vanity Fair's stipulation. It is writ as part of the blogger code, after all, that links shall be provided.

Mr. Wemple wrote in an email: "It's the first time I've gotten a link in an e-mail that says you cannot share it -- which, of course, grinds against everything that a link is all about. I caught a bit of guff about this in the comments and on Twitter -- people didn't think I should have done this and thus promoted Vanity Fair content without having the content itself. I find this a terribly compelling criticism and may well not play along the next time. The main reason I bit this time was that I'd been reading all these broad-brush pieces on the Post and was waiting and waiting for the Vanity Fair piece to come out and see how it fit or didn't fit."

Then there's the matter of the original story, Sarah Ellison's take on the Post for Vanity Fair.

Here's Mr. Wemple's take in his blog post:

The story of The Washington Post, like its bosses' business strategy, is a pretty stable thing in and of itself. It has had a regional-national tug of war for decades. Its digital strategy has been a boardroom battleground for decades. And, like any newsroom, it has kicked up some interesting and Vanity Fair-worthy executive clashes for decades. As a very good editor friend of mine once said, 'There are no new stories. Just new copy.'

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