Legendary magazine editor Tina Brown is back in the print business after merging her online startup Daily Beast with the wreckage of Newsweek.But this time it’s different.
This time, when the new Newsweek debuts next month, there will be no fantastically expensive celebrity-filled launch party. There will be no huge-name “columnists” paid big bucks to contribute a story once in a while. There will be no bullhorns, no bravado, no bottomless budgets for million-dollar Annie Liebowitz cover photos.
There will just be a quiet launch of a “serious,” sober publication that knows it will have to fight for its life just to survive.
Jeremy Peters previews the new Newsweek–and the new Tina Brown–in the New York Times. Here are some key points:
- After a year of purgatory, Newsweek’s fortunes have gone from bad to worse: The magazine’s ad pages are down a shocking 59% year over year.
- The combined Daily Beast – Newsweek newsroom is already smaller than Newsweek’s was when Sidney Harman bought the magazine last year. (This is an impressive start to cost-cutting, and there will likely be more to come.)
- Tina Brown’s budget will be limited: Harman is giving the turnaround three years to succeed and is only willing to lose $40 million over that period. And while $40 million is an unfathomably huge sum for online content startups, it’s much smaller than, say, the $50+ million Rupert Murdoch is spending this year on The Daily and the $100 million that Portfolio blew in its short life a few years ago. (Newsweek still has ~$100 million of revenue a year, which is obviously a help).
- The new Newsweek is located in spare, cheaper offices new Wall Street, not in fashionable, more expensive midtown.
- The new Newsweek will likely debut on March 7: “People outside the magazine who have seen the current prototype described it as recognisable as Newsweek in name only. The paper is thicker and glossier. There are more photographs and a greater use of white space. It incorporates The Daily Beast brand in a new section called NewsBeast. Advertisers have been told the back page will be a column written by a different notable figure each week discussing a professional blunder.”
- Tina developed her new launch strategy–quieter, humbler–after launching Talk magazine with huge fanfare in the late 1990s and watching it fold less than two years later. She also understands the hyper-competitive new content landscape, which is forcing traditional publications to evolve or die: “You have to basically make the assumption that they have absolutely no interest in you whatsoever,” she said. “There is so little attention to spare, you have to make sure that where their window of attention is open, you’re in.”
- Tina Brown is making about $700,000 a year. She also presumably either owns a big chunk of stock in the company or just got paid a big chunk of money for her stock in The Daily Beast.
Sidney Harman says he thinks the combined Newsweek-Daily Beast can eventually be profitable. This seems reasonable… As long as the company keeps a laser-sharp focus on costs, combines its editorial operations to build a single online and print content engine, and finds a way to make the magazine itself useful again.
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