Sizzling times for business books

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Ordinarily, i'm uncomfortable talking for the record about the future of anything. Chances are at least even I'll be wrong on most subjects. But when Advertising Age editors asked me to discuss the future of the business magazine, I couldn't let it slide. This is a subject I've thought about a great deal recently, for a variety of reasons.

First, Fortune, the magazine I edit, is celebrating its 70th birthday this month, which has provided us with an occasion both to look back on what we've done and ahead to what we want to do.

Plus, in just a few months, Fortune will launch its first bona fide spinoff magazine ever, eCompany Now. The monthly will be based in San Francisco and aimed squarely at any business person interested in coping with either the opportunity or the threat of the Internet. Finally, of course, as part of Time Inc., Fortune finds itself about to become part of AOL Time Warner, which is believed to be the company as likely as any to lead the media/entertainment/information/marketing industry into the digital future.


So, where in all this will the business magazine fit? Let's stipulate from the outset that I am extremely bullish on magazines in general, and even more bullish on business magazines in particular, especially good ones. Why? Because what good magazines do cannot be commoditized. Not by TV, not by talk radio, not by cellular information services and not by Internet media.

Some day technology may change the way we deliver our handiwork, or maybe not, but that's irrelevant to what good magazines do.

Good magazines synthesize and analyze; we dig deeply into stories, then step back and develop a strong point of view; we build relationships with our readers, an affinity group if you will, based on some alchemical magic that includes trust, discovery, wit, attitude, creativity, photographic and graphic appeal, utility and entertainment. You can read all the newspapers there are, watch all the TV you want, surf the Internet all night; but a good magazine can still amaze and amuse you. That's why loyal readers of great magazines actually feel good when their latest copy lands in their hands.

Now, focus that great format on a hot topic, and you've really got something. Is there any topic these days hotter than business? The stock market. Megamergers. The Internet. The job market. Greed! Power! Lust! Envy! They're even making TV movies about computer makers. Let's face it: George W. Bush running against Al Gore is just not as exciting to people these days as a 200-point spike in Yahoo! stock, or AOL merging with Time Warner to take on Microsoft Corp. or Doug Ivester's humiliating flameout at Coca-Cola Co.

My standard pitch these days is: This is the best time in history to be the editor of a business magazine. Magazines have never been stronger or more popular, and business has never been more interesting to a larger, more diverse group of people. The story is exciting. The characters are compelling, and they're not just white guys in ties any more, either. The plot changes almost hourly. Nothing is at stake but vast fortunes and the very way we will work, play and live for the rest of our lives.

Fortune is so hot that in one recent week it was the best-selling magazine in Barnes & Noble nationwide. Hard as it is to believe, a business book actually out sold Time, People and Maxim. If you're one of the ones who hasn't caught the Fortune habit, you have no idea what you've been missing. We're having more fun than should be allowed. And you should join us.


To be fair, many of the same dynamics apply to some of our competitors, who are also turning in terrific financial performances. Nor do I intend any of this to imply that business magazines don't face challenges.

Watch eCompany Now closely this spring, for example, and you'll notice that we've put just as much attention and investment into launching our Web site as we have into the magazine. If we succeed in getting them to work hand-in-hand as we envision, we could, in effect, be turbocharging the very concept of a business magazine.

Enough. As I write this, one of our reporters just phoned to say Bill Gates is stepping down as CEO of Microsoft this afternoon. You gotta love this business.

John Huey is managing editor of Fortune and oversees editorial direction of eCompany Now and FSB, Fortune's Small Business magazine.

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