For nearly 80 years, Newsweek was a fixture in American homes, and helped readers make sense of the prior week's news and hopefully, take a look forward. It was the younger, smaller and pluckier rival to Time Magazine and their rivalry was perhaps the most storied in American journalism.
While that print battle has seemed quaint for some time now, it will end officially, or at least change as Newsweek prints for the last time on December 31. Editor Tina Brown and CEO Baba Shetty announced today that starting in 2013 there will be no print Newsweek, just a global digital edition that will publish to the web, e-readers, tablets and other devices.
"Ch-ch-changes," Ms. Brown and Mr. Shetty wrote in a memo to staff. "Newsweek Global, as the all-digital publication will be named, will be a single, worldwide edition targeted at highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context."
Ms. Brown said Newsweek Global will be a subscription product, though no pricing details were immediately available. Some content will be shared with The Daily Beast, as it is today.
The move caps a transition that began two years ago when Sidney Harman bought the iconic but struggling Newsweek from the Washington Post Co. and then merged it with The Daily Beast, the news website backed by Barry Diller. Mr. Harman died in 2011 and Mr. Diller took control of the joint venture earlier this year.
In July, Mr. Diller said Newsweek/Daily Beast could either cut back or eliminate the print edition by the end of the year. "We're examining all our options," he said on IAC's second-quarter conference call. "Our investment next year is going to be significantly less than it is this year."
Eliminating the print edition will mean substantial savings for Newsweek, which was reportedly losing $20 million a year, as well as staff cuts. "Regrettably we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the United States and internationally," they said. "More details on the new organizational structure will be shared individually in the coming weeks and months."
Newsweek isn't the only iconic print magazine title to struggle, but the weekly news magazine format proved difficult to adapt to an increasingly real-time world of news. But other weekly news magazines have found ways to prosper. The Economist, for example, will soon start reporting digital circulation separately from print, and The New Yorker has successfully built out digital properties that surround the print edition.
For its part, Time Magazine doesn't appear to be ready to give up on print. On an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Managing Editor Richard Stengel acknowledged that the print edition of Time is its most costly product, but said its still serves as "the centerpiece of the brand."
To be fair, Newsweek has struggled with declining subscribers and advertising for more than a decade. "No one should be entirely shocked by this, nor is it a death knell for print," said George Janson, managing partner and director of print at Group M. "As someone who loves magazines, though, it is sad. I can remember when the brand was strong and vital."
News magazines have been hit hard by a decline in pharmaceutical ad spending, which had long gravitated to magazines due to the required disclosures that must run with some drug ads.Will advertisers buy in to the all digital strategy? It depends, Mr. Janson said, on whether there is an all-digital business model that will make the brand healthy. "Are consumers going to pay for Newsweek.com when there are thousands of other websites and sources of information? he asked. "Will it be fact-packed and credible and have the star power of Tina Brown?"