June 03, 2010
The Future of Newsweek
Posted by Christine Hurt

Newsweek is on the block.  The Washington Post Co. is accepting nonbinding bids for the 77 year-old magazine, and a few prospective buyers are lining up.  However, most name brands have declined:  Bloomberg, Thomson-Reuters, U.S. News & World Report.

I used to love Newsweek.  It was my airport purchase of choice.  I never had a subscription though, because it was so expensive.  I remember getting a call form a marketer once who would give me three other subscriptions for free (I think my picks were Oprah, Vanity Fair and something else) for purchasing a Newsweek subscription.  When I was in practice, I received an offer a week to purchase a subscription for "half off the newstand price," but it was still expensive.  Weekly magazines subscriptions are expensive. 

But now I rarely buy it, even in the airport.  If the morning newspaper seems to have stories that are already familiar, then reading a weekly magazine seems a lot like reading a 6 day-old newspaper.  And Newsweek's concept was news.  Mostly short pieces similar to a newspaper article or a blog post, with a few longer pieces, with more texture and interviews.  So, these days, you're paying $4 for the two long pieces, a lot of articles you've already read, and the cartoon/quotations page.  The weekly format just got squeezed by the Internet.  Weekly deadlines make sure that almost everything is stale and nothing is incredibly deep and thoughtful.  I actually love the articles in Vanity Fair, which are often about the financial industry, well-written and in-depth.  But I'm sure they take more than 4 days to write.

But what about People magazine?  It's a weekly, it's expensive, and it's very popular.  But what is in there isn't available on the Internet.  They have exclusive photographs.  Good ones, that I'm sure they pay for.  They also have exclusive interviews with celebrities, which they may also pay for.  Yes, you see on the Internet that Sandra Bullock is separated from her husband, but People magazine has the exclusive interview.  Two other things that sets People magazine out from the crowd.  First, it's more reliable than their competition.  If you look at a grocery store checkout aisle, four other magazines will have a cover that says that Hollywood couple No. 347 is divorcing because of (1) strange religious practice; (2) same-sex affair; (3) opposite-sex affair; (4) plastic surgery; (5) baby or lack thereof; or (6) aliens.  The cover of People magazine will be silent on the topic.  I don't believe any celebrity gossip unless it's in People magazine.  Second, People magazine may sell to a different demographic than the one that is following every celebrity on Twitter and scanning the internet constantly for news.  So, what's in People is still news to the mom at the grocery store who gets to check Facebook every other day, and People is amazingly good at getting things in the weekly magazine that seemed to have happened six hours ago.  The same people who would buy Newsweek have already kept up with most of the news that's in the latest issue.

So, stay tuned to see who wins the auction and what they will do with Newsweek once they win.

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