That Newsweek has been losing both money and influence in recent years would seem like good news for the magazine’s long time rival, Time.Newsweek, which lost about $30 million last year and is on track to bleed $70 million by the end of 2010, was recently sold for $1 plus the assumption of about $10 million in debt and other liabilities to former stereo magnate Sidney Harman, who now finds himself struggling to find a new editor-in-chief who can help him turn the magazine around.
Time, meanwhile, is reportedly on track to turn a $50 million profit this year, and has raised its editorial profile by moving away from eyeball-grabbing celebrity covers and injecting more hard-hitting journalism into its blood. “A [Time] cover story still has an impact,” former Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz recently noted.
But as Slate’s Jack Shafer suggests, Newsweek’s decline isn’t a reason for Time to celebrate, because without enough healthy competition, Time, too, risks slipping into irrelevancy. “The death of one will portend the death of the other,” he writes.
Success not only loves competition, it requires it. Hertz exists to lap Avis, Heinz lives to outpour Hunts, Nike can’t run unless it knows Adidas is chasing it, and the various TV networks define themselves in terms of their opponents. Until recently, the three newsweeklies benefited from that sort of competition. It helped them to know that their readers actively choose them instead of passively accepting whatever the newsstand dealt them. And the act of choosing made readers identify more strongly with their magazines. But if Time buries Newsweek completely, its victory will soon turn Soviet. “Ya, comrade, in People’s Republic of Magazines we need only one newsweekly: Time!”
Of course it’s too early to say whether Newsweek is headed toward life support. But if Harman doesn’t install the right editorial leader, if he makes any notable business blunders during this key transitional phase, the magazine’s death might start to seem not so far away.
And if you buy Shafer’s argument, so might Time’s.
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