Sunday, December 14, 2008

Newsweek wants to be The Economist when it grows up

Once again, a recession bites most fiercely on companies and categories that were struggling in good times (e.g., department stores and newspapers). Another example: weekly news magazines. Newsweek's ad pages are down 17% this year, and Time is down 19%. US News has dropped out, announcing first that it would become a bi-weekly, then amending that to monthly.

But the category has been struggling with irrelevance for a long time:
Just how challenged the newsweeklies have become can be seen by comparing current ad page counts to those of eight years ago.

January through September 2000, Newsweek reported 1,613 ad pages, with revenues of $294,259,907, based on ratecard before discounts. Time reported 2,032 ad pages and revenues of $449,397,814. For the first nine months of this year, Newsweek reported 1,035 ad pages and revenues of $237,578,612. Time reported 1,179.46 pages at $313,886,163.
In the past couple decades, the newsweeklies have mostly appeared to respond to the changing market by dumbing themselves down to the point that they're pretty much indistinguishable from People. (I admit I'm basing this on limited observation -- it's been decades since I read any of those mags anywhere other than doctor's offices). This left a niche that has been filled by The Economist. And now it seems that Newsweek wants to crowd into the same niche:
According to these reports, Newsweek plans to shed news coverage in favor of analysis and opinion journalism as practiced by The Economist and other so-called thought-leader titles, relying on big-name journalists rather than the teams of reporters and editors who now put out the magazine each week. Shedding a good share of that staff would mean huge cost savings. Already this year, Newsweek has shed more than 100 positions.
Good luck to them, of course, but Newsweek trying to reposition itself as intelligent reading seems to me kind of like Lindsay Lohan trying to rebrand herself as Grace Kelly -- it's a worthy effort, but unlikely to succeed.

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