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May 18, 2009

Newsweek's "Counterintuitive" Business Strategy is to Cut Circulation in Half

As Robert Stacy McCain puts it: "'Counterintuitive' Is the New Stupid." The idea is to discourage resubscriptions until total circulation drops. The magazine is also raising prices. What kind of crazy shit is this? R.S. McCain explains:

Meacham [Newsweek's editor], an admirer of the Economist, is fashioning a serious magazine for what he calls his base, with a heavy emphasis on politics and public policy.

Right. You're going to turn a mass-circulation news magazine into some sort of highbrow policy journal . . . weekly! And then watch the money roll in! If this isn't the stupidest business strategy in the history of journalism -- that's a pretty tough competition -- it's certainly in the Top Five.

Notice that Meacham's idea is to publish a magazine resembling a magazine that he likes to read. Call it the Narcissus Reflecting Pool Theory of journalism: If the top editor admires a certain publication, then trying to imitate that publication must be a good business strategy. What you are doing, therefore, is producing a publication for your own editors, rather than for the readers.

This isn't as crazy as it sounds at first. It's rather expensive to print magazines and deliver them. Meacham's making a couple trade-offs. He believes the cost reduction for printing and delivery will be greater than the reduction in ad revenue. He's also hoping that by re-casting Newsweek as a high-brow weekly he can grab some high-brow readers who will pay $6 at the newsstand.

Will it work? Doubt it. The Great Recession is teaching advertisers all kinds of great and terrible things about print media.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 12:31 PM

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