Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The future of newsweeklies

Howard Kurtz looks at Time and Newsweek as they struggle to adapt to a changed media marketplace.

Do Newsmags Still Matter?

Two elements of their strategy seem problematic.

First, both magazines have reconciled themselves to shrinking readership. Each of them are moving away from a mass audience model and are concentrating on a niche marketing approach.

The rival editors are turning out weeklies that are smaller, more serious, more opinionated and, though they are loath to admit it, more liberal.

It is striking that both editors are fighting for the same liberal readers as an answer to a shrinking market. Both magazines would rather compete for the same readership instead of repositioning to appeal the under-served center-right readership.

Selling opinion does have one advantage-- it is cheaper than reporting.

The shift toward analysis carries an ancillary benefit: It is cheaper than shoe-leather reporting. Each magazine's editorial staff -- 215 for Time, fewer than 200 for Newsweek -- is about half the size it was a decade or so ago.

The short-term cost savings may be an illusion. Opinion is free and plentiful on the web. As Time and Newsweek become less news-based, they end up competing with all that internet punditry.

Lower costs are only part of a solution for any struggling company. They also need to put out a product that people will pay for. I think it is debatable that the week-old commentary of Jonathan Alter or Joe Klein constitute a compelling proposition to potential subscribers.

No comments: