Comparing Apples to Oranges

Earlier this month, the staff at Folio Magazine published an excellent report on the top 50 Magazine brands on Twitter. Eight of these 50 magazine titles had more than one million followers. While this is impressive, I quickly turned to my last ABC Audit report and noted that many of these titles had over a million circulation. Impressive, yes, but it would have been less impressive if they hadn’t reached a million followers.

But the first two paragraphs told an interesting tale:

“Magazines have been at the Twitter game for a while now, and many have built large, loyal followings – much larger than their newspaper counterparts.

There are eight magazine brands with more than a million followers…while the newspaper industry has just two, the New York Times … and Wall Street Journal …”

Now I am a magazine guy through and through. Born, bred, employed, eat, breathe, drink. You name it. So I’m not averse to taking a knock or two at my fellow newspaper workers. However, I don’t like cheap knocks.

The eight titles with a million or more followers: People, Time, InStyle, Women’s Day, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Life, Health, Wired, TV Guide, are all national brands.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are also national brands, even though the Times is based in New York City and much of it’s coverage is naturally focused on that region. The only other newspaper that is national in scope would be USA Today. The Chicago Tribune, one of my two hometown newspapers is a very good paper. It has a big circulation, as it should for such a large city. But to expect it to have the same number of Twitter followers as People Magazine strikes me as an absurd expectation. You could say the same of any of the other five papers I’ve listed below.

A more fair, but still not fair, comparison, would be to look at the number of Twitter followers of the local newspapers to the local  city magazine. This is still not fair because (unless I spend a few hours that I don’t have looking through ABC reports), most hometown newspapers have circulations that have to be several times the size of the local city magazine.

I did spend a little time earlier this week checking the Twitter feeds of a few city newspapers and their magazine counterparts. And not surprisingly, in five of the six randomly selected markets, the local newspapers topped out the local magazines. In all of these cases, the local newspaper is a much bigger organization than the city magazine. I suspect that Boston Magazine outpaces at least the Globe in part because the Globe seems to split it’s feeds into several different features and topics.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard over and over again how newspapers are failing, they’re losing their market, they’re dinosaurs, they don’t have reach. There is certainly no denying that newspapers are in financial trouble and that their executive teams have made many of the decisions that have placed their companies into the jackpot that they find themselves in. Many city newspapers are owned by big national conglomerates. But their end product is by nature, local.  In terms of serving their market, delivering the news, having deep knowledge of the place they service, newspapers are still doing a very good job. And so far, no one has come up with a viable replacement.

Let’s cut them a little slack in the “FAIL” department.

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3 Replies to “Comparing Apples to Oranges”

  1. Good point about local strengths of newspapers. I’d like to see more locally owned newspapers, but I don’t know that the economics will support the founding of new dailies. (Though I do know there are some interesting experiments going on with free dailies in some big cities.)

    So, yes, let’s cut ’em a bit of slack.

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