Late last night, Bnet media analyst and blogger David Weir predicted that Newsweek magazine will be gone by this time next year due to mounting advertising losses.
Newsweek already is scaling back its mission and audience substantially, shedding half of its former mass audience of 3.1 million to concentrate on wealthier readers. Weir had this to say on the Bnet website:
I can't say I'm surprised. For the better part of a year here at Bnet, I've been expressing concern about the fate of the so-called "newsweeklies" whose business model simply no longer makes sense. Sadly, Newsweek's new plan [to target wealthier readers] will prove to be too little, too late. Expect this title to disappear altogether by this time next year.
Of the top ten magazines in terms of advertising pages, eight suffered deep losses through the end of 2008 -- People, In Style, Forbes, Fortune, Vogue, Business Week, Time, and the New Yorker. Only two -- New York and The Economist -- grew over that same period.
Run-of-the-mill Newsweek wants to concentrate on wealthier readers? Does this make any sense?
"The idea that Newsweek or Time will ever be the kind of product that appeals to a truly elite audience is laughable," said media blogger Doug J. "I've never, ever heard anyone with half a brain tell me what a great article they just read in Newsweek." Historically, rebranding a publication is difficult.
In addition to shedding readers, Newsweek is trimming personnel and reportedly cutting some pages out of its weekly print edition. Newsweeklies simply can't compete against cable TV and the Internet in a 24/7 news cycle. Advertising revenue is way down, as are circulation and newsstand sales. "For these outdated products, there simply is no way out," said Weir, who called last year's advertising figures for Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News & World Report a "bloodbath."
One option discussed at the newsweeklies was to work on improving the writing and story-telling quality of their content, which is often described as eighth-grade level. Another option discussed was "to move toward an opinionated, prescriptive or offbeat take on events," according to the New York Times. But here's the rub: those types of content options may not be faring any better than the newsweeklies' current offerings. Third quarter ad revenue for the New Yorker dropped 18.9 percent.
Newsweek's parent organization, the Washington Post Company, welcomed the idea of a makeover, which will include a new graphic design and the use of heavier stock instead of thin paper. Advertisers are less optimistic, and view all change as risky.
Not that long ago, the covers of Newsweek and Time were among the most important individual pieces of media in the nation. "Now they are irrelevant and unmentioned," said blogger Michael Wolff. Which dead-tree news magazine will fold first? A death watch is underway.
UPDATE 8.3.10: Yesterday The Washington Post Company sold Newsweek to Sidney Harman for $1 (plus the assumption of liabilities for the magazine.) That's right, one dollar -- significantly less than the $2 million asking price.