Are Weekly Magazines to Go Down Next?


It was first the Newspaper, and now magazines going down too?

Nearly 50 years after first acquiring the weekly news magazine, The Washington Post Company is exploring the possible sale of Newsweek that purchased backin1961. The company has retained Allen & Company to help find potential buyers for the publication, which has seen mounting red ink over the past three years.

Jon Meacham, the Newsweek editor discussed the future of Newsweek on The Daily show last night.

“The good news today is we did not close today, we went up for sale,” Jon Meacham told Jon Stewart.

There was a dark edge to Meacham’s humor, but he seemed realistic about the challenges facing his magazine.

Meacham echoed his earlier comparison of Newsweek to a catcher in the rye, preventing the American people from tumbling over the precipice into ignorance. “I don’t think there are many on the edge of that cliff,” he said.

Watch the full episode of  The Daily show with Jon Meacham as the guest. You may have to fast forward the video to get to the interview part with Jon Meacham.

Listen the part when Meacham tells Stewart that the Economist has the right model. I didn’t quite catch his rational. Did you?
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are some memorable coverage of the magazine:

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About Elias Shams
I have been a serial entrepreneur in telecom and social media space for past 12 years or so. I hold a M.S. degree in Telecommunication Engineering from the George Washington University and a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. I’ve lived and worked in many countries and cities including London England, Tehran Iran, Bonn Germany, Paris France, Alicante Spain, Delhi India, and my favorite of all Washington, DC of great US of A. Two of the greatest Washington, DC based companies I worked for and very proud of are Yurie Systems which was sold to Lucent in 1998 for $1.23 B and telezoo.com that I founded in 1999. I am currently the founder and awesomizer @ awesomize.me

72 Responses to Are Weekly Magazines to Go Down Next?

  1. This would be an atrocity…I don’t see it happening. Kind of like no one can curl up with an e-book, the book will never die. Nor will traditional news outlest. Growing pains in this economy? YES. Do they need to adapt to chaging ways to get news? Esquire did it great this year by offering a multi-media issue. I’ve been following all of this online and through the WSJ and NY Times media sections…great places to start and keep up. I also blog extensively about this when there’s news. http://www.rtcpublicity.wordpress.com if you go back in postings.

  2. Bouncing in this interesting discussion, I read a lot of great comments and thoughts. There’s an angle that hasn’t quite been brought up though….

    People have gotten tired of controlled media … example:
    Politicians trying to outdo the other with commercials slamming their rival.
    People controlling emotions through written media/newspapers…quite often a newspaper or television news only talks about the bad. You have to dig deeper to find good things.

    Word of Mouth has gotten so large due to people wanting to get to the truth of the matter. How else can that happen but to hear what others are saying about a matter? Is it true? Is it reliable? Your not finding many opinions in a newspaper, you find “a reporter” has written “an article”. Yes there is an opinion page…but as Helen states…”times are changing”. People want to hear what “people” are saying, not what some politician is accusing another, or what one persons view is on it. That’s why reviews and ratings are so popular.

    I do enjoy the newspaper, and a good magazine…but I have switched over to online browsing when I’m looking for information in realtime.

  3. Good thoughts, Corinne. There is too much pecimism in news and the loss to news organizations is obvious.

    Quality investigative journalism is the “cream of the crop” and draws more attention, however. It would be better for the industry to also uncover the good stories, as the CBS Evening News is doing with their American Spirit segment: http://www.cbsnews.com/2718-18563_162-298.html?tag=hdr;cnav

  4. Thanks, Corinne.

    I’m STILL totally surprised at the uproar that has ensued over this topic. Again: times really are changing-even since this discussion began 2 weeks ago. Hasn’t anyone thought of this until now? It’s like the iPad comes out and with all of its fanfare, declares “this is the future”. Only then, do people–in OUR business, no less–start wondering: “Hey, if that’s the future, what’s going to happen to print, TV news, radio- all the stuff I’m used to?” Not to mention the jobs that go with these industries.

    >Rebecca: there will certainly still be books. There is a large demographic of people who still like to curl up and get cozy with a book (and there’s a marketing guy from Amazon out there projecting how many Kindles they’ll need for the holidays this year, too…) But again, notice how many bookstores are closed? Think of all the publishing houses that have merged or disappeared. Consider the large-run printing plants that have closed, The large-format presses sitting quietly in their 10,000 sq. ft. plants, the disappearance of forests needed to make paper…Books will be a luxury for those who can afford them, or there may be a reemergence of old ‘zines–self-published opinion pieces that have mostly been blogging for the last few years. Do you think the NYTimes and WSJ are ready to write their own obituaries? Not good business. While they report what’s happening, they leave out the part about their own digital products being tested as we speak. My free online version of the New Yorker will now only give me all the news it carries if I subscribe (cha-ching!). At a lower cost than the printed version, granted, but I don’t want to read the New Yorker online!. However, advertising is down, postage has gone up, and paper–well we covered that.

    >Jay: to you I must say, go back and read a book (uh-huh, a book) about the history of journalism. Every newspaper and magazine has an editorial policy, established by the editor and pals who pay the editor, dictating a position on every public issue to be reported in a certain way. Newspapers sway public opinion–they start wars, they end wars, they get politicians elected or give them the boot, depending on what candidate their publications are endorsing. They create scandals and and then hush ’em up.

    The world works in mysterious ways. Denial won’t make it all go away.
    Keep going while we learn how to live a new life. The Sci-Fi guy, Ted, is right. No one ever reads a newspaper in s Sci-Fi film. Androids will just laser your brain and make you think what they want you to think.

  5. Steve Brown says:

    Books aren’t dead. Newspapers aren’t dead. Magazines aren’t dead. Selling advertising is always a challenge, and it isn’t any less challenging for digital media.
    The above comment, however, that states “every newspaper and magazine has an editorial policy, established by the editor and pals who pay the editor, dictating a position on every public issue to be reported in a certain way,” is nothing short of dead wrong. Sorry, but I’m a career journalist and former Gannettoid, and that definitely isn’t true, and it gives much more of a sense of organization to editorial “policy” than there actually ever has been in my experience.
    Yes, sometimes you encounter a new editorial policy when the publisher calls in from the golf course noting that his golf buddy, the mayor, wants you fired for the story you just published (that’s happened to me). Yes, sometimes the congresswoman’s chief of staff gets your story yanked off the presses by the publisher as a favor (also happened). And sometimes, you write something and someone gets upset and cancels an ad (yep).
    But while there is discussion about what to support, endorse, or criticize editorially, the picture painted by those comments is so off the mark that I had to jump in here.
    The one thing that really has mystified me is why papers with 150,000 paying daily readers can’t make a go of it. Give me 150,000 paying readers and I’ll make it work. Period. There are ways…..

  6. @Helen, here’s a good example of only bad news…
    “the disappearance of forests needed to make paper…”

    I live in the pacific northwest, tree’s are plentiful here. But you only hear or read about the lack of tree’s and see the “omg” pictures and video’s that tell you tree’s are disappearing…what they DON’T tell you is that foresting along with replanting is common around here. Land management has and is doing very well. The only reason millworker or logger jobs have been scarce – or “lack of paper” (lol) is because of the economy and the cost of running the plants to produce the paper…not the forests dwindling.

    So next step to really know the truth…you can use the internet including Social Media and get a bigger, not so limited view by hearing and seeing from real people.

    @ Steve, your in a great career, and yes you have to deal with alot of “crap” so to speak, which is why SM and the vehicle of the internet has become so popular…everyday people can’t be controlled by the golf buddy or mayor (bummer experience) which is why “facebook”, “twitter”, “stumbleupon” “youtube” and others are thriving…people talking to people.

  7. Thanks for your comments, Steve. Organizations interested in advertising need to know that 150,000 newspaper readers are likely to be more educated and have a higher income than the average group of 150,000. Newspaper readers are always a good target market for that reason. That realization is important to the life of a newspaper.

  8. >Corinne: I have lived in the Pacific Northwest too. I spent several years there and still visit. The paper companies “reforest” but not with the same slow-growth trees they cut down. They want to be able to go in there and keep cutting–not wait for the old trees to re-grow. And if you’ve ever seen an example of clear-cutting, it is not a pretty picture. I know that logging is an important industry in the Pacific Northwest and lots of jobs have been lost. But these reforesting stories are propaganda created by the companies so sadly and so badly hurt by their own miscalculations. And that’s the truth as I know it–I may need to catch up on the latest info, but last I heard, this was the case. As far as only bad news goes: if the bad news is true, there’s no sense in sugar-coating it. You can write good news that builds hope about the bad news, for instance, the optimism created by the green, recycling movement. But claiming there isn’t a problem with deforesting and “replacing” old-growth trees –wouldn’t it be worse to not know this?

    >And Steve: I don’t know where you’ve worked, but every newspaper has an editorial policy. Going all the way back to Yellow Journalism and the Spanish American War, the empire of William Randolf Hearst, and all of the journalistic dynasties that have followed, the importance of fair reporting is even more important than ever because journalists are influencing the population with editorial that suits their agenda. Where ever there is advertising, there is somebody on the phone making sure their own interests are well protected. There are very good reasons why a free press needs to be constitutionally protected.

  9. Hahaha…well, we’ve gotten off the beaten path about this discussion, I would like to compare notes somewhere else about the Pacific Northwest…clear -cutting may not be pretty, but it is part of reforestration…having lived in the Pacific Northwest for a few decades…I’ve seen how they do work watched the cycle, understand how tree’s are harvested…and replanted.

    As I’ve travelled through all parts of this country…I’ve seen commercials pointing fingers showing only the clear – cutting part…and not follow through with the replanting cycle…just to get people supporting a “cause”.

    Every industry has it’s issue’s…and currently it’s the media…so with change happening faster than most newspapers and magazines can keep up with….we all have to think “outside the box” or off the paper 😉

  10. Helen, finally I – as a former ad-sales man – felt understood by a journalist (Steve 😉 ). It’s true what Steve and you have said about the editorial policy. But how it works, at least in the Netherlands and all other democratic nation to my knowledge, is that the purpose of this editorial policy is to uphold and monitor the strict division between journalism and commercialism, i.e. advertising. Indeed, maintaining also the free press. In my career as an advertising salesman for all the respected quality newspapers in the Netherlands (e.g. de Volkskrant, NRC Handelsblad, Trouw etc) I’ve never experienced an instance where an advertiser has dramatically influenced the editor-in-chief to please run this so and so Ad in that and that Umfeld. There’s always independent journalism at stake. Once, as an editor you give in (and I’m not that naive to deny it has never happened) to the advertisers’ needs, you’ll be on a slippery slope….

  11. Do we really need another retail magazine? I guess the answer is, Yes! Maybe they should try using aggregating information, audience participation, and citizen journalists, along side the typically expected editorial. Now there’s an idea! Why don’t we have the community speak for themselves. Where most locally produced magazines fall short is that they can’t seem to keep up with the times when it comes to technology or know-how! Magazine’s love the internet!

    Are these types of magazines offering a “Must Have” for the demographic they are trying to connect with? Typical editorial speaks to a large cross section of a reader base or audience, even in a niche market. Besides it’s apparent focus on cultural life, familiar short stories, collection of opinion based essays and of course how-to advice. Do these magazine have what it takes to draw a following? Isn’t it about time to write the next chapter in this on going saga known as the local magazine publishing industry. To survive they must rely on social media readers and allow online social commentary.

    Magazine publishing is certainly not as lucrative, or as glamorous as it once was, but there’s money in it for those who are willing to work hard and exploit an untapped market. Niche publishing has been growing over the last decade, these magazines focus on fringe groups rather than the masses; there seems to be a magazine for just about everything. In our community there are magazines directed towards; lifestyle, business, technology, vitality, art and culture. Pooling resources, whether it’s money, associations, or a common cause, can make good sense for outfits that want to remain ambitious in lean times by forging ties with like-minded colleagues.

    “The placebo effect Magazines have; They’re persevered value is subjective, and persuasion is better than compulsion. What is the intangible value of most magazines, it’s all in the appearance. Hint: Local Magazines should ask their reader base to get even more involved in the creation of the content they consume in the future.”

    We are digging out of a recession, local media corporatists already in the business of selling magazines’, need to expand into a new market, Editor’s that merely try to be taken as esteemed story generators and wordsmiths – fall very short. I shouldn’t be so quick to judge or blame the Editor. It boils down to the tools and faculties you inherently have to work with. It’s all about choices and decision making and having the right to voice your opinion. My blog post might not be taken as sage advice, it might just be viewed as, here’s another know-it all, or it might be read as being so unspeakable true it hurts. We’ve seen circulation declines based on the products in question, simply some have squandered away their value to readers. So, don’t fall pray to sales promotion strategies. These companies need to increase ad revenue, in the hope that it will bring better results for the company and increase slumping sales numbers. Local marketers are spending more and more on their own websites, instead of relying on paid media. This trend and overall decline in ad spending was obviously caused by the economic downturn. Leaves you wondering if paid media will ever rebound as companies focus on their own sites.

  12. Steve Brown says:

    There is supposed to be a strict wall, if you will, between the editorial and advertising divisions of newspapers and magazines. That “wall” has a lot of holes in it. But as somebody who has worked for a number of large media companies in a couple states over the past few decades, I’m sorry, but every newspaper and magazine does NOT have an editorial policy.
    That simply isn’t true, and it isn’t made more true because someone read a book on newspaper history. Editorial “policy,” what there is of it, is all over the map. It is often made up on the fly. It often changes, randomly, or is personality driven. It is rarely thought through in a rational, comprehensive fashion, or is even stated in a manner that reporters and editors could all turn to this supposed policy and be guided in their reporting.
    The unstated editorial policy that does seem to exist among the majority of reporters and editors is not one dictated or implemented by their employers. It is to try and report accurately and without bias. I’m not saying they’re that good at it, they are human, after all, but I will say the majority of my professional (and I will exclude bloggers and the amateur categories of reporting here) colleagues at least attempt to provide some balance to their reporting, and feel some sense of responsibility to their audience for doing so.
    And Maarten, I HAVE seen advertisers be allowed to influence and dictate editorial content here, but it is not the norm in most major newspapers. It usually happens through direct intervention of the publisher, and usually if the publisher has come up through the ranks on the sales side of the business. But again, it is not the norm.

  13. Dale Smith says:

    In small publications it is the norm. Most small publications let advertisers dictate editorial content. The reason is that ad sale reps for smaller pubs
    A) have no backbone
    B) they have no idea what they are doing.

    That was tough for me to say seeing as I have been on the ad sales end of things for the last 15 years.

    As soon as the reps and the publishers say NO to the question, “If I buy an ad will you write a story on me?” Editorial integrity might come back.

    We have lost numerous advertisers due to the fact I tell them NO. Just because they went into business is NOT something our readers want to see. The advertisers have jumped ship to a competitor who not only uses buy an ad get an article but the publishers don’t even write a single story. The norm for that pub is if you buy an ad, we will let you be a writer. The magazine is unreadable but they are gaining in ad pages.
    In small pubs, readership accounts for nothing in the advertisers eye.

    When you lose the advertising base, you go out of business. It is sad but it is a fact.

  14. Jay Ahuja says:

    While that is true Dale, it’s short term thinking to acquiesce to advertisers. When you stop putting out a quality editorial product, you will lose the readers fairly quickly and when you lose the readers, the advertisers go away even quicker. I’ve seen it happen over and over in my market.

    However, I think the lion’s share of the blame goes to the publishers. A publisher who thinks long term and understands that the readers are everything will tell his sales managers and sales staff that under no circumstances does he or she give a damn about advertiser’s concerns. It’s the sales staff”s job to educate the advertiser to that effect and if the advertiser doesn’t get it, hopefully their competitor will.

  15. Mike Trelfa says:

    Pay attention to the shift in paradigms! I don’t think that magazines will go the way of the dinosaur, but certainly we don’t believe that magazine distribution isn’t affected by the internet, right?

  16. live long and prosper — this weekend at least…;-)

  17. Qifan Weng says:

    I don’t think magazines will go down in the near future. People’s demand for information and different viewpoint will never be exhausted. So the key is the channel to release the magazine and the form and content of the magazine. Mobile device is the future of electronic products, as well as the future for the publishing industry.

  18. For both newspapers and magazines it depends on the content and the audience. If your content is relevant enough your readers are willing to pay for it, you will survive. If not, you will probably wither and die. And due to growing interactivity with social media, I think we all should start to think of readers or our audience as users of content. But that is for another discussion.

  19. As I wrote on my blog ( http://miketeevee.wordpress.com ) we are all creatures of habit, and newspapers unwittingly helped to change peoples deep seated habits from print to online.

    For examples of peoples habits, I have used myself. Hopefully I am not so different from the masses!

    I buy my morning coffee from the same few providers based on the same set of criteria. If the first one I arrive at doesn’t have more than three people in the queue, I’ll buy it from there. If it does have a longer queue, I’ll move along to number two in the list. This happens without any conscious thought, and it is a part of my daily routine.

    Before that purchase every day, I stand at the exact same place on the same station every day. I get off the train in the same place, and take the same journey through Clapham Junction to platform 12 where once again I take up a familiar position. Going back further still, I get out of bed, iron a shirt, go to the bathroom (always cleaning teeth first, and showering second) and then get dressed. It’s a habit. formed over time.

    Advertising is often best designed to break habits that people currently have with competitor brands, while forming new ones with their own brand. So when people are talking about the decline in newspaper readership, and the rise and rise of readers online, surely the publishers themselves have to realise that they unwittingly played their part?

    Back in the dot com boom of 2000 or thereabouts, I worked in media sales for a newspaper. We were crammed full of advertising that was designed to take readers from our newspaper, directly online to a plethora of different sites. There were pages and pages of advertising taken from new websites, all leading people from the offline world into a shiny new (ish) cyberspace. The revenue uplift in the short term was significant.

    At the same time, our own editorial team were driving people online to read more, get more, and engage more. Over time, newspapers were showing people ‘another way’ to consume news … it was unwittingly helping readers break thier habits of reading a printed newspaper, that were formed over many years, by showing them a new way and slowly but surely people changed their habits.

    The habit of reading a daily newspaper changed, over time, and they started reading the free online version.

    Newspapers, in their short-term revenue-chasing funk, allowed an entirely new medium to arrive en-mass and take a huge proportion of space in their publications … all of which were designed to drive people away from the lucrative offline world, and into the online space. The most consistent, most repeated message throughout many newspapers every single day was online, online, online. Go online was the message from advertisers; go online also the vibe from editorial. Funnily enough, people started to go online.

    The online world were collectively, and unwittingly acting like a parasite by attaching itself to press titles with such a force in the weight of advertising column inches, and sucking the readers out to cyberspace one by one. Advertising is often design to break habits, and the dot com boom did it in a big way. I seem to remember seeing stats at the time that proved that newspapers were the most effective medium at driving online audiences. Newspapers were justly proud of these stats, and used them to drive even more .com advertisers into their newspapers.

    The online revolution would always have arrived. Newspapers certainly helped it along though, by giving online access to huge audiences.

  20. John Rich says:

    Of course magazines are next, as are TV networks, radio stations, and all other mass media businesses.

    Content used to be hard and expensive to create and distribute making it necessary for “professionals” to filter from the gazillion of possibilities a select few to produced. Fortunately, this cost and complexity meant that there were very few distribution channels and therefore massive audiences on the other end of the pipe waiting to receive this anointed and rare content. With the digitization of everything, content is generally now so cheap to create and distribute that just about everything gets made first then we filter it*. Magazines, like newspapers, TV networks or Film Studios are essentially complex and expensive filters. Right now numerous new models that bypass the editor, studio executive, producer and publisher are being experimented with. The end result will be more content created for vastly lower costs and we’ll do our own filtering, or at least Google will do it for us;-)

    bit.ly/MagazineDeathwatch

    * Credit for the ideas on content creation and the filtering process go to Mr. Clay Shirky and his book, “Here Comes Everybody.”

  21. IMHO, much of this conversation has been about apples and oranges – plus other assorted commodities, without clarification as to which point is being addressed. I’ll try to compartmentalize my thoughts in a couple of areas.

    In America we are nearly through a massive transformation from a reading society to a watching society. The last vestiges of printed materials exist in school textbooks which the children are not being taught to read but only to scan for the captioned pictures. Multiple choice testing requires little reading, merely good luck in remembering the teacher’s cram-instructions 24 hours prior.

    Along with no formal teaching of ethics or accountability, children are not being taught discernment, thus we have a growing generation of gullible and potentially lawless citizens who have no notion of what trust and credibility mean and the values they still represent to their parents and grandparents.

    How many know what a byline is or the difference between opinion and editorial. Who understands push-polling (and has successfully explained it to a 23 year old?)

    A popular phrase has been, we are moving from an industrialized society to an information based society. But I believe it is more accurate to describe it as “disinformation” based, i.e. the current news cycle battle over who is “in control of the cleanup of the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico”, British Petrolium or the Obama White House.

    Success for publications of any kind in the future is going to first require that they overcome the lethargy of the dominant consumer groups and the disdain of the exiting generation still in control of the disposable income.

    The internet, with essentially no attribution and smothered by partisan bloggers, is not to blame for this void in enlightenment, but merely has arrived at exactly the best time to take advantage of it.

    Newspapers, magazines and television are, as we all agree, in severe decline. While wringing their hands over failed business model after failed monetization model after failed registration schemes, all are paying lip service to the old King, Content. The King is dead, long live the king. But if you notice, no one is mourning that king because the Dan Rathers of the world assassinated him – along with his former employer CBS.

    To many, the newspapers, magazines and television are getting exactly what they worked so hard to achieve and so richly deserve, a place in history but not the future. Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton sans underwear merely help underscore my point.

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