The ongoing introspective bouts of introspection, mustache huffing and harrumphing about the final disposition of the weekly newsmagazine formerly known as Newsweek leaves this columnist with some questions and “Harrumphs” of his own. Oddly, the biggest question seems to be:
“What is all of this chattering about?”
Is it really that surprising that we discovered our readers were at first reluctant to pay for content that we once gave away for free back when the internet was young? Is it really surprising that when we finally charged for a digital version of the content, we charged a lot less for it than the print version? Why is your spreadsheet so surprised? And why are we surprised that people remark about it? We have whole class of reporters and bloggers who fulminate about how digital should cost so much less because it’s so cheap to produce (Apparently they’ve never entertained a proposal from an app developer).
Let’s be clear, while Time and Newsweek were a pretty big deal in the past, were they really that big a deal compared to other forms of mass media?
And let’s be honest, if it was announced tomorrow that the CBS television network was going out of business, well that would be a story. But the endlessly dreary drone that has been the Newsweek saga?
The Pew Research Center wrote up an excellent report on the state newsweeklies not so long ago. On the whole, it made some excellent points and conclusions. Their selection of titles for the category was very interesting.
Far be it for me to really criticize the Pew Research Center. There’s them, and then there’s me: a sole proprietor with limited time and resources.
But is The New Yorker, The Economist, The Atlantic and The Week in the same category and class as Newsweek and Time?
The Economist is an import. Its British tone and analysis is its appeal. And while it’s been in this market for some time, and competes to an extent with Time and the former Newsweek, it’s not really in the same ball park. It does cover news, but it’s called The Economist. Spend some time with the content and you’ll see why I’ve always considered it significantly different from the other two titles.
Frankly, if you’re going to put these titles in the analysis, then BusinessWeek should have been included. Unless, their 6.8% increase in overall circulation from 2007 to the second half of 2012 would have skewed the results.
The New Yorker is a news magazine, of a sort. But its market and demographics is not the same as the Time and Newsweek. Those audiences are much broader. The Atlantic is also in a different demographic class. Hell, if we’re going to toss those two titles into this analysis, why not include Harper’s? Who doesn’t love their index? Is it because they never offered a digital clock in their subscription offers?
While all of these magazines offer news and analysis, there is a big difference between the newsweeklies, the imports, and titles with less frequency in their publishing schedule.
In our market, the single copy world, the newsweeklies were their own category. And for a long time there were really only three titles: Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report. Three titles in a category. They were sort of big because of their weekly frequency and you could often find them at a checkout. At one time Newsweek and US News & World Report even had their own field forces. But well before industry consolidation hit us in 1990’s, they were long gone. And I recall people talking about the decline and fall of the newsweekly subcategory back in the early 1990’s.
As I’ve repeatedly maintained (And this is my opinion, nothing more, nothing less), the issues that we see in the continuing decline of the newsstand have a lot more to do with the long standing issues we have with marketing, display and the dysfunctional nature of our supply chain. Is the general public giving up on print? Perhaps. At the worst, they will be giving up, over time, some of their print. But in the long list of illnesses our industry has, that particular symptom is near the bottom of the list.