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Magazines – Intro


By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

The change signaled by the biggest news magazines as they headed into 2007 has begun, but it will require more time to judge whether it represents genuine change or just a pause along the way of decline.

The two leaders, Time and Newsweek, both took what they called bold steps in 2007. Time made good on its announcement to change its publication date and cut its circulation numbers to draw in more advertisers and move more of its news online. Newsweek quietly did the same. Time overhauled its Web site and print product. Again, Newsweek forged ahead, breaking away from, and calling its print changes “refinement more than a revolution.”

But an examination of the content in those magazines shows relatively little change so far. And 2007 numbers only show more of the declines in ad pages and drops in circulation that have marked the industry for the past decade.

The strategies may take some time to yield results. But, meanwhile, competition continues to grow in the form of an expanding online media and even print magazines, such as The Week, that are grabbing readers.

How low will the circulation numbers fall? How many times can a magazine and Web site be redesigned? The two dominant players may have to reassess their experimental efforts to keep both advertisers and readers.

For U.S. News & World Report, nothing ventured turned out to be nothing lost. The No. 3 news magazine continues to stand apart from its rivals in holding steady on its circulation strategy and bypassing a softening and broadening of coverage in favor of national and international affairs. Its revenue numbers are moving slowly, but in the right direction.

Two alternative newsweekly rivals, The Week and The Economist, attracted more advertisers and readers in 2007 and look to grow that already healthy readership. The Week does it by replaying material from others, The Economist with an elite analysis of the week’s news and larger trends, reminiscent of an old Time magazine.

We may be witnessing in news magazines what we have seen in other industries such as automobiles: A world with more competitors, with different approaches and styles, creating a pie with more even-sized slices.