There seems to be a deep-seated belief in the consumer magazine industry that a new look can give a beleaguered publication a new lease on life -- but the evidence suggests that superficial (or even more substantial) redesigns actually have little impact on circulation or ad sales.
In the US Time and Newsweek are redesigning in the hope of reversing multi-year declines. Time managing editor Richard Stengel told readers that the magazine has added an "economy page and a photo spread; moved 10 Questions to the back page; and created one large section called "The Culture," which combines the old Life and Arts sections.
This is the second redesign under Stengel: the first repositioned it as a journal of news analysis, opinion and commentary, but failed to avert ad page declines of 6.9 per cent in 2007, 19 per cent in 2008, and 17.4 per cent in 2009. Turning to circulation, between the second half of 2006 and the second half of 2010 total newsstand sales fell 25 per cent to 89,592, while subs fell 11.5 per cent to 3,213,374.
Newsweek is said to be preparing a major redesign set to debut in March. The redesign is partly intended to incorporate content from The Daily Beast Web site, which recently completed its merger with Newsweek after months of fitful negotiations. Some kind of makeover was probably inevitable following the struggling magazine's acquisition by stereo magnate Sidney Harman last year, MediaPost reports.
Newsweek ended 2010 with ad pages down 19.8 per cent to 896, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, while total paid subs declined 25.4 per cent to 1,423,666, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Over the same period, Time saw ad pages slip 2.9 per cent to 1,406, as paid subs declined 3.2 per cent to 3,109,161. But as noted, the recent history of magazine redesigns doesn't provide much reason to believe these revamps will produce lasting improvements in terms of readership or advertising.
More recently, in March 2010, Fortune magazine got a major redesign, including new sections, graphics and format, but the venerable business title ended the year with ad pages basically flat with a 1 per cent increase to 1,539, according to the PIB. On the circulation front, Fortune saw paid subs fall 3.5 per cent to 798,690 in the second half of 2010 compared to the second half of 2009, according to the ABC; newsstand sales did increase 9 per cent to 27,608.
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