Former Combatants in News Weeklies' War Forge New Strategies
An election season like we're seeing now once would have kicked the rivalry among a trio of news weeklies into high gear, with vast resources poured into winning scoops and newsstand readers from one another. Today, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report increasingly follow different paths.
The trio have changed to varying degrees since a decade ago, when they fought in close quarters. Paid and verified circulation for their print editions then averaged 4.1 million at Time, 3.1 million at Newsweek and 2 million at U.S. News & World Report, according to their reports with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, now the Alliance for Audited Media.
U.S. News, which stopped printing a regular magazine at the end of 2010, now pursues a range of revenue streams, including a growing business-to-business component. Newsweek, which left print in 2012 but returned in 2014, brought down its online paywall in February to chase larger digital audiences and ad revenue. And Time magazine, essentially the winner of the decades-long war of the news weeklies, today sees a big new opportunity with branded content, through a unit called Stitch Creative it introduced late last year.
U.S. News & World Report
Most media companies these days would love to be seen as a utility: something that a consumer can't live without, and is willing to pay for. Even after the magazine's general audience started to wane, its rankings of universities and other such guides were a must-buy on newsstands and at the supermarket check-out.
U.S. News & World Report still publishes three consumer guide books in print each year, but the company, owned by Mortimer Zuckerman, has become a digital business.
"We decided that you can't survive on advertising alone," said CEO Bill Holiber, who holds the same role for the New York Daily News; both publications are owned by Mort Zuckerman. So in addition to advertising, U.S. News, which has about 245 employees, makes money from subscriptions, licensing its content, and lead generation and other b-to-b offerings. Hospitals, health care companies and higher-education institutions pay for access to two platforms containing a vast repository of searchable, comparable data U.S. News has compiled on their industries over the years.
The b-to-b business generates 10% of revenue right now but could grow to 35% to 40%, Mr. Holiber said.
"The idea is to as generate as much revenue as you can per user that comes through the site," Mr. Holiber said.
Consumers generally come to U.S. News while in the process of making a decision, such as buying a car or applying for college, which makes them particularly desirable for advertisers. He claimed that U.S. News is in a "hockey stick moment" for advertising, with recent revenue up between 30% and 35% from a year earlier.
And how much revenue does U.S. News produce? Mr. Holiber said it's in the high eight figures, adding that the company expects to cross into nine figures in the next few years.
As U.S. News & World Report strives to avoid depending on ad revenue, Newsweek's website is moving to lean more on ads and less on readers.
Newsweek opted to open up the site three months ago by dropping a three-year-old metered paywall that had limited visitors to five free articles per month (and had proven to be a bit glitchy).
At the time, IBT Media Chief Marketing Officer Mitchell Caplan said that "more page views is always better." It's early, but Newsweek.com is seeing an increase in traffic: It brought in 4.66 million U.S. unique visitors across platforms in February, 6.74 million in March and 6.37 million in April, according to ComScore. And those uniques last month were up 72% over the year earlier.
It's still looking up at Time and U.S. News & World Report. Multiplatform U.S. uniques in April totaled 21.74 million at Time.com, up 12%, and 21.13 million at USNews.com, up 1%, ComScore said. All three lag well behind digital natives such as Business Insider and The Huffington Post, which brought in 76.45 million unique visitors last month.
"For a long time we believed that if we exposed more audience to Newsweek's great content that performance of our site would improve," Mr. Caplan said in a statement to Ad Age. "We opened the paywall as a test to see what the impact would be on a variety of metrics, including UV's, page views, time spent, and others. To date we are very pleased with the results. Newsweek is seeing record levels of engagement. Part of this is of course our great content, but we also know lowering the paywall has had a positive effect."
Although Newsweek dropped its paywall, it didn't do away with digital subscriptions, hoping to add value for digital subscribers by giving them access to content from the print edition a few days before free readers. Newsweek says it has a combined 100,000 print and digital subscribers in the U.S. and still sells 30,000 to 40,000 newsstand copies each week, although it hasn't reported print numbers to the Alliance for Audited Media since its previous print incarnation ceased publishing. The new print edition recently turned two years old.
"Digital advertising continues to grow, and print remains good but flat," Mr. Caplan said.
At an open house for investors last week, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp said, "When I first came back to Time Inc. [in April 2014], someone told me that Time magazine itself, the brand, had been shrinking for many years. ... It's a newsmagazine, right, what can you do with that?" But, he said, the magazine has seen growing revenue and profit over the last two years. Previously, Time Inc. Exec VP Evelyn Webster said, the magazine had suffered through a decade of declining revenue. She attributed the brand's growth to new leadership, new strategies, and new investment.
Time Publisher Meredith Long said the magazine has also "established a new level of collaboration and cooperation between the editorial and the business sides of the brand."
While print subscriptions and advertising are still reliable revenue sources (print revenue was up in 2015), Time says it has a sizable, millennial-heavy digital audience, and Time Inc. is actively working to generate more digital advertising revenue through better technology and targeting.
For Time magazine, Stitch Creative is a big part of that digital advertising push. The unit has a four-person team, led by former New York Observer food critic Joshua David Stein, and has completed projects for Netflix, Siemens and Principal Financial Group.
Time and Newsweek declined to provide ad page numbers.