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What’s Up With Newsweeklies?

The weekly magazine is surely going through some tough times!

Consider these:

1. Time magazine, the venerable but failing health newsweekly, is watching it’s circulation tank. During the second half of 2009 the magazine saw a 34.9% decline in news stand sales. During the first half of 2010 there was another decline of at least one third in Time magazine sales. (note)
TIME has also suffered large advertising declines and declines in newsstand sales. Can e-subscriptions make up the gap? Not yet. Is this another ship sinking? Have readers started to vote with everything they have? Are they responding to the stunt journalism like moving Time reporters into Detroit to report on the central city changes or is this not enough to engage readers as subscribers and single issue purchasers? Can a newsweekly survive in a world where daily newspapers are considered too slow in the world of the web? Can they slough off their news genes and get tough with commentary and analysis? If they do, will anyone notice?

2. U.S. News and World Report Will Stop Publishing Magazine
College-ranking expert U.S. News and World Report will cease publishing an actual print magazine with December’s issue with the exception of special issues like their various rankings issues. This is a major switch for this newsweekly. Will it survive as a e-weekly alone? In the iPad world and and with the upcoming color Kindle et al, maybe this gutsy play can make it.

3. Daily Beast, Newsweek to Wed! with Tina Brown at the helm
50/50 Joint Venture will Merge all Newsweek Businesses and The Daily Beast’s Digital Assets; Tina Brown to Serve as Editor-in-Chief.
This seems a creative solution to the weeklie’s timeliness problems. Merging with a top news blog is a creative solution and also adds some editorial depth for the blog while adding nimbleness for the print weekly. I think with such properties as The Huffington Post topping the lists of news properties that people read, we’re seeing the next phase of the sea change in news consumption.

4. The trash weeklies like National Enquirer, Star, etc. are heading for bankruptcy. Even trash and made up news doesn’t sell well in this changing environment and consumer economy. At its height, the Enquirer’s circulation hovered around six million. It’s now below one million.

Read more:

5. The Economist appears to be the grand old lady of weeklies. It, of course, differs from the others in that it does excellent journalism, lengthy articles and doesn’t suffer from some of the stunt journalism that characterizes the others and smacks of desperation. It’s the one I pick up all the time at the airport as I avoid the newsstand issues of the national weeklies which seem too homogenous and lack the timeliness and critical thinking and editorial I crave. And I am always satisfied with the excellent product.

6. Even the business weeklies and bi-weeklies like Forbes and Fortune are declining in ads and circulation.

I grew up in the era of LOOK and LIFE. I watched as they declined as pictorially based magazines were pushed aside by TV and gossip/celebrity magazines like US and People. Now they come out occasionally as special issues and shadows of their former glory and esteem. They’re an example of a genre that couldn’t adapt to a changing environment and fickle consumer. Today I expect my article reading to be analytical and opinin based and offer insight. For reporting of the news I tend to devour the internet based stuff in my RSS reader as well as CNN and Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert whenever I’m lucky enough to be near a TV when they’re on.

What does it mean for libraries? Do we care about the newsweekly anymore? What purpose do they serve that cannot be accommodated in other ways? Maybe weekly just doesn’t cut it anymore in a real time world.


Posted on: November 17, 2010, 7:21 am Category: Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. When I was younger (pre-internet), I used to love to look at Newsweek when it arrived in our mailbox. Occasionally, we’d get an issue of Life as well. It was easy to assume that publications like this would always be there, but the landscape has changed so much that this assumption seems foolish now.

    It’s easy to sum up their predicament with the phrase “change or die,” but I’m not sure that’s even an accurate description of their fate. As much as I hate to throw out the overused term paradigm shift, I really think that’s what we’re going through and the model that the newsweeklies were built on is dying. Sure, there’s always a chance that one or two might morph into something new that can survive in the future, but most probably will not. It will be sad, but not uncommon. Just ask the buggy whip makers (to cite a completely different industry that faced a similar shift).

  2. At the very least, I should point out that newsstand sales have very little to do with actual magazine circulation. Time’s circulation has not dropped by one-third over the course of six months: The almost-trivial portion of that circulation made up of single-issue newsstand sales has dropped. Overall circulation may have fallen 20% over 11 years, and that’s significant–but it’s not dying quite yet.

  3. Walt: I added a chart for circ for 1998-2008 which shows about a 20% drop. Add in the worst years – 2009 and 2010 and it’s more than 20%. The drop in ad revenue is the one that makes the business difference. The old business model of weekly news is hurting and online isn’t picking up the slack.
    And, as widely predicted AMI, (National Enquirer et al) filed for bankruptcy.