Two related pieces this morning caught my eye. One, from AllThingsD, is about Time magazine’s efforts to figure out a paid content strategy: Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore: Let’s Put the Digital “Genie Back in the Bottle.” The second is from The Atlantic, contrasting the rise of The Economist with the decline of Time and Newsweek:
Unlike its rivals, The Economist has been unaffected by the explosion of digital media; if anything, the digital revolution has cemented its relevance. The Economist has become an arbiter of right-thinking opinion (free-market right-center, if you want to be technical about it; with a dose of left-center social progressivism) at a time when arbiters in general are in ill favor. It is a general-interest magazine for an ever-increasing audience, the self-styled global elite, at a time when general-interest anything is having a hard time interesting anybody. And it sells more than 75,000 copies a week on U.S. newsstands for $6.99 (!) at a time when we’re told information wants to be free and newsstands are disappearing.
The article asserts a number of reasons why The Economist is succeeding and argues that Time and Newsweek will increasingly follow its formula:
The easy lesson might be that quality wins out.
The Economist prides itself on cleverly distilling the world into a reasonably compact survey. Another word for this is blogging, or at least what blogging might be after it matures—meaning, after it transcends its current status as a free-fire zone and settles into a more comprehensive system of gathering and presenting information.
While other publications whore themselves to Google, The Huffington Post, and the Drudge Report, almost no one links to The Economist. It sits primly apart from the orgy of link love elsewhere on the Web.
This turns out to have been a lucky accident. Unlike practically all other media “brands,” The Economist remains primarily a print product, and it is valued accordingly. In other words, readers continue to believe its stories have some value. As a result, The Economist has become a living test case of the path not taken by Time and Newsweek, whose Web strategies have succeeded in grabbing eyeballs (Time has 4.7 million unique users a month, and Newsweek has 2 million, compared with The Economist’s 700,000, according to one measure) while dooming their print products to near irrelevance.
Like Craigslist it may be that the success of The Economist cannot be easily emulated by others and may have to do with its unique history and a range of events and circumstances that cannot be duplicated now.
The fate of Time and Newsweek as print publications is all but certain, continuing decline. The prestige and relevance of these publications is quickly going away.
The recent Stephen Johnson cover story about Twitter would have in the past been a major coup for writer Johnson and for Twitter itself. Now it the event passes with only marginal notice (at least in my view). Time is just one of a veritable sea of undifferentiated print publications that now languish on newsstands because the world is moving too fast for them.
Like Life magazine, which was one of the most visible and important publications of its day, Time may simply be nearing the end of its lifecycle.