Clearing the Clutter: Shutting Down Weak Magazines

Making the Tough Decisions That Strengthen the Business

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It would be great if more magazines went out of business in the coming months. And more websites were shut down, TV shows yanked off the air, newspapers folded and radio programs unplugged. The media landscape needs to be cleared of some of its clutter.
'Weekend' and 'Shop, Etc.' were both imitators, aimed at duplicating the successes of rivals 'Real Simple' and 'Lucky.' Neither found the sweet spot. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
'Weekend' and 'Shop, Etc.' were both imitators, aimed at duplicating the successes of rivals 'Real Simple' and 'Lucky.' Neither found the sweet spot. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

Hearst Magazines
Cases in point: the closings by Hearst Magazines of Weekend and Shop, Etc. magazines, and Time Inc.'s decision to shut down the Office Pirates website.

Mourn the loss of jobs, but don't cry for the products. They didn't represent original ideas that fulfilled marketplace needs and tapped audience passions. Office Pirates was a faux-cool attempt by a bureaucratic corporate culture to subvert bureaucratic corporate cultures. Also, it wasn't funny. As Bill Carter detailed in "Desperate Networks," it's nearly impossible for even the highest-paid entertainment executive to predict hits. But there are TV shows and movies that stink of failure long before they make their debuts, the ones even couch critics can see are destined to fail. Office Pirates was in that category.

Failed imitators
As for Weekend and Shop, Etc., each was an imitator, aimed at duplicating the successes of rivals Real Simple and Lucky, respectively. Neither found the sweet spot. By comparison, titles such as Domino and Quick & Simple are new takes on existing categories, and both seem to be working.

Hearst and Time Inc. shouldn't be blamed for trying, though, or blasted for putting people out of work; rather, they should be applauded for making the kinds of cold-eyed business decisions that media and marketing companies need to make more often. These are industries that too often get stuck on emotion or ego and avoid making even the most obvious tough calls.

That's why it was so refreshing when Interpublic went all the way with the recent merger of FCB and Draft and placed Howard Draft clearly in charge of its new-breed creative/direct agency. As the details were being hammered out, the biggest fear was that the holding company would cave to the temptation of a half-measure, creating a parent company over the two agencies while allowing them to continue to operate separately and report to different leaders. (There was a camp advocating just that approach.) By choosing the bumpier path, Interpublic made the right move -- regardless of whether the merger ultimately succeeds. (Knowing Howard, it will.)

Moving deliberately
There are indications that media owners are moving more deliberately, if only out of necessity, as their business models shift; Samir Husni counts a drop in the number of magazines launched this year, for example, while Walt Disney Co. is reducing the number of movies it produces in a bid to boost the profitability of its studio.

In a 2003 column in which I called for the closing of the storied ad agency Bates, I wrote: "From what I understand of the benefits of pruning, the removal of dead leaves and branches allows more sunlight and air to reach and nourish healthier ones." In that context, the shuttering of a failed company "should be seen for what it is: a healthy prerequisite to the revitalization" of an industry. (Incidentally, Bates was shuttered within months, which didn't prove how smart I was, only the inevitability and predictability of its closure.)

There are still too many awful products of all kinds out there, ones that clearly aren't working but are being sustained for reasons of vanity. If 10 media observers were asked to make a list of obvious suspects, chances are there'd be quite a bit of overlap. Figuring out what to do with those properties won't be an easy call for their owners, but it should be a clear one.
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