A Bad News Week for Newsweek?

By Larry Teren

The Publishers of Newsweek Magazine announced that they are ceasing to issue a printed edition after December 31, 2012.   Instead, they will shift to just their website as well as subscription for download to mobile devices. They said that the cost of printing and distribution was no longer justifiable in proportion to the revenues.                      

Interestingly, Newsweek management thinks it can build a paid subscription list of “highly mobile, opinion-leading” readers and technology users “who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context”. The fly in the ointment, as I see it, is that it is one thing to pick up a magazine at a drug store or newsstand, hold it in your hand and read it at your convenience on the train or in your house. It is another thing to hold a reader’s attention looking at a computer screen, or worse, small mobile device, and cherry pick through several articles and pages of stories intermingled with annoying ads.

More and more people – 39% of news seekers- are doing as I do- going online , rarely watching televised newscasts or picking up a newspaper. The way the world is operating, news is immediate and constantly changing- not something to be waiting for until 5 or 10pm. It makes sense to seek up-to-date news sources at one’s convenience. It remains to be seen, though, how much these so-called ‘opinion-leading’ Internet-savvy technology users are willing to pay to download or read information that is already ‘old news’. Newsweek‘s owners are betting that they will not have to rely mainly on website display ads, which do not bring in as much revenue as magazine ads. Who knows? Maybe Newsweek will shift towards updating their information more than once a week and become like a news aggregator such as Yahoo and Google.

Founded in 1933, Newsweek eventually became the chief weekly magazine rival to Time. I’ve always felt that you read one publication but not the other. Time seemed to be on the other side of the political spectrum for my tastes. Their annual designation of the Person of the Year usually seemed questionable or downright in bad taste. Newsweek, however, hit the nail on the head in what piqued my interest. That said, I hadn’t intentionally picked up a copy of Newsweek in probably, oh, twenty years unless I was stuck twiddling my thumbs in a doctor’s office waiting room.

Fifteen years ago it was rare to see a package sitting on the mail-room counter in our condo building. Now, every day there is at least one or two packages. It has become so common to order things off a website. Yes, there was “mail order” back then, but it seems as if it was used for special occasions. Now, we all buy online to save going to a store, finding what we want and then have to pay in addition sales tax. Depending on the cost of the item, the shipping fee may be much less than sales tax.

Society has evolved into a mobile app world. We are all constantly on the go and easily distracted by anybody and anything trying to give us information, whether trivial or of earthshaking significance. But I wonder – not trying to be too crude- how many of us are going to take their tablets into the washroom as they would their favorite magazine?

I saw someone make a simple, but poignant comment on the news site that posted the Newsweek announcement:  “… Many trees are applauding.”

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