Barry Diller, now the sole owner of Newsweek, announced during his holding company’s recent earnings call that the magazine would cease print publication sometime this fall. The thing is already as good as dead
Interestingly, the story I read noted that “Most magazine publishers these days concede that their publications will ultimately have to transition to digital-only at some point.” This story appeared in The Atlantic Wire, a print pub making that very transition, if only piecemeal.
Everyone knows that digital distribution of the written word has wrecked havoc with the publishing business. The combination of infinite content that costs nothing to acquire getting transmitted via a medium that costs nothing to use (and is immediate, and on 24/7) has blown up the ways print publishers make money
The online content sites that make money do so mostly through aggressive SEO to drive readers to individual stories, to which they sell exposure to advertisers. Slate, Gawker, and The Daily Beast aren’t as much journalism brands (like Life or Mother Jones) than platforms for journalists (or bloggers, really). Diller’s recent write-down of his $16 million stake in the Beast suggests the math for these sites is still more hopeful than real.
There are a lot of other things that digital media have done away with — editorial voice, reliability, consistency, accountability, and regulatory-enforced community responsibility…not to mention the episodic distribution that constituted more “events” than simply delivery, and prompted “lean in” reading habits that took time and commitment — but it turns out that most consumers either don’t notice the difference, or no longer care.
An online Newsweek looks like every other online content aggregator and there’s no reason to believe it can make any money at it. The “it” of its brand has declined with its circulation (and reliance on hoity-toity writer personalities who have no collective purpose that the brand can own). You can expect lots of blather about how it curates content uniquely or exclusively but, well, curating is also something everyone does now so why pay for it?
Newsweek is kinda already dead. An online version risks being nothing more than an electronic ghost.
I don’t understand why it can’t follow the path chosen by other publications, like The Economist and, to a lesser extent, Fortune, and pick a POV and then stick with it. Stand for something. Make the collection of stuff…OK, the curating…have some unifying purposes and themes. Establish an editorial voice that has authority and means something to people (vs. current editor Tina Brown’s glib babble about whatever she likes in “her” magazine each week).
The world doesn’t need another news aggregator any more than it needs the ones we currently have.
So why not go further than the other successful pubs and reach for stellar success: Fire all the high-priced celeb columnists (they can get work ginning up content for another site that’s will to pay them through the nose), then hire the most inspired, motivated, talented journalism school grads and task them with reinventing the publication? Go all Facebook high tech all-nighter for months on them. Diller could give them a mandate, perhaps something like “make Newsweek a must-read, and so it any way you can imagine.”
The thing is already the walking dead, so what’s it got to lose?
I don’t expect Newsweek will be around a few years from now. Neither will many other great media brands. All of them have been innovating madly with the able assistance of genius technologists and “new media” experts who’ve convinced otherwise smart people to distract, twist, and transform their businesses into oblivion. Many of them are committed idealists and, like their predecessors in history, they’re the type that will grind their clients into the ground in pursuit of their ideals (it helps that there’s a lot of money to be made along the way).
The media business needs better invention, not the same old stuff that Diller announced. I’m available, in case anybody is listening.