Trees of the world, rejoice!

Newsweek is shutting down its print version at the end of the year:

Tina Brown, founder of the Daily Beast Web site and the driving force behind its merger with Newsweek, announced the move on Thursday in a message on the Daily Beast.

“We are announcing this morning an important development at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Newsweek will transition to an all-digital format in early 2013. As part of this transition, the last print edition in the United States will be our Dec. 31 issue,” Ms. Brown said in a message co-written with Baba Shetty, the recently hired chief executive.

The all-digital version of the magazine will be called Newsweek Global and operate on a paid subscription model. The name Newsweek, in spite of its trouble in print, still has value in terms of international licensing, as well as several conferences Ms. Brown has created.

Andrew Sullivan, whose Dish blog is part of the Tina Brown-run Daily Beast family that controls Newsweek, gives his take:

…[W]hen asked my opinion at Newsweek about print and digital, I urged taking the plunge as quickly as possible. Look: I chose  digital over print 12 years ago, when I shifted my writing gradually online, with this blog and now blogazine. Of course a weekly newsmagazine on paper seems nuts to me. But it takes guts to actually make the change. An individual can, overnight. An institution is far more cumbersome. Which is why, I believe, institutional brands will still be at a disadvantage online compared with personal ones. There’s a reason why Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are named after human beings. It’s because when we read online, we migrate to read people, not institutions. Social media has only accelerated this development, as everyone with a Facebook page now has a mini-blog, and articles or posts or memes are sent by email or through social networks or Twitter.

And as magazine stands disappear as relentlessly as bookstores, I also began to wonder what a magazine really is. Can it even exist online? It’s a form that’s only really been around for three centuries – and it was based on a group of people associating with each other under a single editor and bound together with paper and staples. At The New Republic in the 1990s, I knew intuitively that most people read TRB, the Diarist and the Notebook before they dug into a 12,000 word review of a book on medieval Jewish mysticism. But they were all in it together. You couldn’t just buy Kinsley’s perky column. It came physically attached to Leon Wieseltier’s sun-blocking ego.

But since every page on the web is now as accessible as every other page, how do you connect writers together with paper and staples, instead of having readers pick individual writers or pieces and ignore the rest? And the connection between writers and photographers and editors is what a magazine is. It defines it – and yet that connection is now close to gone. Around 70 percent of Dish readers have this page bookmarked and come to us directly. (If you read us all the time and haven’t, please do). You can’t sell bundles anymore; and online, it’s hard to sell anything intangible, i.e. words, because the supply is infinite. You no longer control the gate through which readers have to pass and advertizers get to sponsor. No gateway, no magazine, no revenue – and massive costs in print, paper and mailing.

I know a bit about these things, having edited a weekly magazine on paper for five years and running this always-on blogazine for twelve. It’s a different universe now. And to me, the Beast’s decision to put Newsweek Global on a tablet and kill the print edition is absolutely the right one. To do it now also makes sense. To have done it two years ago would have been even better. Why wait?

Felix Salmon is, shall we say, less than convinced that this move is going to work out:

It’s hard to make money in journalism, and even harder to make money in print journalism. But here’s what I don’t understand: invariably, every time a print publication fails, it announces that it’s not going to die, it’s just going to “transition to an all-digital format”. Newsweek, of course, is no exception. But this is supposed to be the clear-eyed, hard-hearted world of Barry Diller:

If doesn’t work out? Move on! “Sell it, write it off, go on to the next thing,” he says.

Once upon a time, Newsweek was a license to print money; from here on in, it will be a drain and a distraction. Merging it into the Daily Beast never made a huge amount of sense, and now it’s being de-merged: instead, its journalism “will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web”. Some of it, I guess, will be syndicated to the Daily Beast.

The chances that Newsweek will succeed as a digital-only subscription-based publication are exactly zero.

Well, I suppose we’ll always have TIME for covers like these.

Advertisements

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s