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Newsweek to End Print Edition, Is Writing on Wall for Newsweeklies?

23 Oct 2012

For nearly 80 years, Newsweek was a fixture in American homes, and helped readers make sense of the prior week's news and hopefully, take a look forward. It was the younger, smaller and pluckier rival to Time Magazine and their rivalry was perhaps the most storied in American journalism.

While that print battle has seemed quaint for some time now, it will end officially, or at least change as Newsweek prints for the last time on December 31. Editor Tina Brown and CEO Baba Shetty announced today that starting in 2013 there will be no print Newsweek, just a global digital edition that will publish to the web, e-readers, tablets and other devices.

"Ch-ch-changes," Ms. Brown and Mr. Shetty wrote in a memo to staff. "Newsweek Global, as the all-digital publication will be named, will be a single, worldwide edition targeted at highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context."

Ms. Brown said Newsweek Global will be a subscription product, though no pricing details were immediately available. Some content will be shared with The Daily Beast, as it is today.

The move caps a transition that began two years ago when Sidney Harman bought the iconic but struggling Newsweek from the Washington Post Co. and then merged it with The Daily Beast, the news website backed by Barry Diller. Mr. Harman died in 2011 and Mr. Diller took control of the joint venture earlier this year.

In July, Mr. Diller said Newsweek/Daily Beast could either cut back or eliminate the print edition by the end of the year. "We're examining all our options," he said on IAC's second-quarter conference call. "Our investment next year is going to be significantly less than it is this year."

Eliminating the print edition will mean substantial savings for Newsweek, which was reportedly losing $20 million a year, as well as staff cuts. "Regrettably we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the United States and internationally," they said. "More details on the new organizational structure will be shared individually in the coming weeks and months."

Newsweek isn't the only iconic print magazine title to struggle, but the weekly news magazine format proved difficult to adapt to an increasingly real-time world of news. But other weekly news magazines have found ways to prosper. The Economist, for example, will soon start reporting digital circulation separately from print, and The New Yorker has successfully built out digital properties that surround the print edition.

At the recent American Magazine Conference in San Francisco, Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC, predicted that newsweeklies would be the first magazine category to die out in the print-to-digital shift. A recent Pew Research Center report backs this up. In the past decade, the percentage of Americans who had read a print magazine in the past 24 hours dropped from 23 percent to 17 percent, per the report. Meanwhile, online and digital consumption of news is increasing, as is the consumption of news through social networks. Since 2010, the percentage of Americans saying they saw news or news headlines on a social networking site in the previous 24 hours more than doubled, from 9 to 19 percent.

No surprise then, that ad pages for the overall news magazine category (including Newsweek, Time, The Economist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Fortune, Forbes, Businessweek and The Week) dropped from 18,000 pages in 2006 to a projected 10,000 pages in 2012, per PIB.

Niche titles have been able to buttress their print ad revenue with other income. Steven Kotok, president of The Week, said the business is 60 percent subscription revenue by design. "We don't rely on ad revenue to make or break the business," Kotok said, adding, "I personally would not want to be a mass publication in this age."

Paul Rossi, managing director and evp of The Economist Group, Americas, also stressed the importance of lessening reliance on print advertising. "All magazines are facing the same issue-readers are migrating to digital and the ad dollars are following," he emailed. "If you are dependent on print advertising, this migration is doubly difficult."

For its part, Time Magazine doesn't appear to be ready to give up on print. On an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Managing Editor Richard Stengel acknowledged that the print edition of Time is its most costly product, but said its still serves as "the centerpiece of the brand."

To be fair, Newsweek has struggled with declining subscribers and advertising for more than a decade. "No one should be entirely shocked by this, nor is it a death knell for print," said George Janson, managing partner and director of print at Group M. "As someone who loves magazines, though, it is sad. I can remember when the brand was strong and vital."

News magazines have been hit hard by a decline in pharmaceutical ad spending, which had long gravitated to magazines due to the required disclosures that must run with some drug ads.

Will advertisers buy in to the all digital strategy? It depends, Mr. Janson said, on whether there is an all-digital business model that will make the brand healthy. "Are consumers going to pay for when there are thousands of other websites and sources of information? He asked. "Will it be fact-packed and credible and have the star power of Tina Brown?"

Source: Adweek and AdAge

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