Wenner Hires First Digital Head; May Take Back RollingStone.com From RealNetworks

Wenner Media is finally getting serious about this thing called the Internet, and has hired Steve Schwartz as its first-ever chief digital officer. Schwartz has been the GM of the Reader’s Digest website since January this year, and will join Wenner next month.

The parent company of Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal has been outsourcing its online sites to third parties, and its flagship RollingStone.com has been under RealNetworks’ supervision for the last five years or so. Real runs the backend and sells advertising on the site, and has integrated Rhapsody music links into the site as well.

Now owner and CEO Jann Wenner wants to define the company’s own digital destiny, even though this AdAge interview clearly shows that for him, print is still the primary reason his company exists. “Why undercut the print edition? You’re just going to undercut the print edition. There’s a finite audience for reading about music. And they like the print edition. They find it valuable and on and on and on.” So despite the fact that Wenner now wants to take back the site from Real after the end of the contract late next year, print remains the core. Hopefully Schwartz will get enough leeway to change the mindset a bit, and develop a more consequential digital business…

Update: Wenner did some layoffs last month, and new report that it has laid off some more staff, including RollingStone Online Editor Kyle Anderson.