We are living at an pivotal moment in history as the dominance of words shifts from print to digital in the biggest change since Gutenberg’s press first made the word accessible to the masses in 1440. Newsweek is the latest victim and after 80 years in print, it's changing its name to Newsweek Global and its format to digital-only.
“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,” stated the official announcement from verteran magazine editor Tina Brown. The veteran magazine editor became editor-in-chief of Newsweek and sister digital news site the Daily Beast in Nov. 2010. The Washington Post had sold the title three months earlier to audio pioneer Sidney Harman for $1.00 and assumption of liabilities, with Brown coming on board as a result of Barry Diller's IAC taking an ownership stake.
Now, it's a new era for the brand, which has been undergoing restructuring since 2008. "We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it," said Brown in a memo to staff. "We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism, that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution."
Brown called it taking "a leap into the future" on her Twitter feed, and elaborated in a live video chat discussing the news on the Daily Beast homepage, "The reader of The Daily Beast and Newsweek is the same reader, just in a different mood" and "We felt it was more important to protect the journalism." Not the journalists, however, as there will be layoffs across the organization with this shift to all-digital.
The current cover of Newsweek features Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Campaigner,” in a piece by author and historian Sidney Blumenthal. “Some consider politics a dirty word, but the 16th president was a master of political ruthlessness—for the sake of the highest ideals.” Brown and Co. believe that they're adhering to the highest ideals of the Newsweek brand, with the ruthlessness of digital and the bottom line necessitating a shift that leaves its paper edition in the dusty archives of journalism.
So going forward, Newsweek Global will be a “single worldwide edition targeted for a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context.” With content available for e-readers, tablets and the web, (and some accessible on the Daily Beast), the focus is on growing paid subscriptions and e-reader and tablet platforms.
The newsweekly began publishing in February 1933, launched by Thomas J.C. Martyn, a former foreign-news editor for TIME with around $2.5 million in backing from a group of U.S. stockholders including Ward Cheney, John Hay Whitney, and Paul Mellon. The first issue featured seven photographs from the week's news were printed on the cover.
Originally called News-Week, the magazine competed with TIME magazine and lagged in circulation until the 1960’s when editor Ben Bradlee focused coverage on civil rights and the stylish, youthful mind-set of the Kennedy administration.
In today's announcement, Brown cited the journalism industry as "increasingly affected by the challenging print advertising environment," as 39% Americans get their news from a digital source according to a recent Pew Research Study.
Newsweek had a temporary stay of execution when the now-deceased Harman purchased it for $1 from the Washington Post in August 2010, but it subsequently merged with Brown's Daily Beast in a 50/50 joint venture later that year.
“Brown's strategy seemed to continually push the Newsweek half of Newsweek/Daily Beast to the back burner—when she wasn't cooking up desperate, attention-seeking covers,” notes The Atlantic. “It was becoming harder and harder to imagine a world in which the magazine might thrive again, but perhaps few expected the end to come soon or so abruptly.” (The decision and strategy aren't all Brown's, or Diller's, for that matter — CEO Baba Shetty also had a say, not to mention advertisers.)
Early reactions in the Twittersphere following the official tweet of the format change:
- New York Daily News' Meena Hart Duerson: Newsweek nails why its announcement about ending the physical magazine hurts: It's "the romance of print."
- National Review writer Jonah Goldberg: So now that Newsweek is going all digital, will dentists' office of the future feature crumpled and torn iPads and kindles?
- Ad Age's Jason Del Rey: With 1 big magazine brand making the leap to all-digital, will be interesting to see who now feels more comfortable doing same.
Just one week ago, the 107-year-old US entertainment industry bible, Variety, sold to the parent company of Nikki Finke's digital news site Deadline.com for $25 million and rumor is that new owner Penske Media will soon cut back on weekday or weekly print edition. And the speculation naturally turns to Newsweek's rival TIME, as Adweek notes:
While Time says it’s healthy and committed to print (as managing editor Rick Stengel, speaking on Morning Joe this morning, emphasized), the economics for publishing a print weekly magazine aren’t in its favor, with paper and postage costs continuing to rise. Time carried 1,370 ad pages last year, down almost 50 percent in the past five years. “Will it eventually affect Time?” one media buyer said. “It has to. They’re going to have to evolve their business model.”
Already on the digital cutting edge, Newsweek's Tumblr has been covering the news of its parent's transition: