Copies of Newsweek will once again hit newsstands.
Joe Pompeo, Capital
February 25, 2014
On March 7, one year and two months from the publication of what was to be its final print issue, copies of Newsweek will once again hit newsstands. There will just be a lot fewer of them, several hundred thousand in the U.S. and abroad. For some context, at the end of 2012, right before editor Tina Brown and IAC chairman Barry Diller turned the iconic but money-bleeding newsweekly into a digital-only proposition, its print circulation was a little under 1.5 million.
But small is the new big: Newsweek, edited these days by Jim Impoco and published by IBT Media, which took the 81-year-old title off Diller's hands, is now being pitched to readers as a boutique product complementing a digital-first strategy. "It will be like a monthly coming out weekly," Impoco told Capital. "The smartest take on last week's news, which is what Newsweek and Time used to be, I don't think that works anymore."
In an industry where digital ventures suck up most of the excitement, and print has all the reputation of a dying T-Rex, anything with physical pages can tend to have a "boutique" feel. There's even a bit of a dead-tree media renaissance in the growing number of small-scale print startups (including the one you are currently reading) that are taking advantage of the medium's tactile, premium potential, as well as the higher advertising rates and reliable subscription revenue it still commands. But the quaint appeal of paper isn't enough to encourage success, especially not for a brand saddled with a recent history of bad press, red ink and tumultuous ownership changes.
"The real question," said Alan D. Mutter, a media consultant who blogs at Confessions of a Newsosaur, "is whether they can create a product that's so compelling, people will put down their iPads and buy a magazine." (Of course Newsweek's tablet edition, which is said to have several hundred thousand paid subscribers, isn't going anywhere, and its daily website will remain robust, Impoco said.)
Impoco, an alumnus of The New York Times and the late Conde Nast Portfolio, is confident that his iteration of Newsweek will fly off the racks. Why? "Because it's good!," the 55-year-old editor gushed. "We're taking a deeper dive. We're breaking a lot of news."
Capital got an exclusive first look at the new layout, which was re-imagined top to bottom by designers Robert Priest and Grace Lee. First impression: Less red, more black. It's a sleek, image-friendly book that opens with several pages of bold news photography under the rubric "Big Shots." The front section, "Page One," favors text-based reportage. "The grazing stuff, we deliberately chucked it," said Impoco. "It's the 1990s playbook." With at least one exception: Newsweek's classic "Conventional Wisdom Watch" has been revived. The feature-well will generally consist of three stories roughly 2,000 to 3,000 words in length. It's followed by "New World," which explores technology, science and medicine, and "Down Time," which closes each issue with a high-low dose of culture, entertainment, food and sports. "All the important stuff you really want to talk about that doesn't feel like work," said Bob Roe, who oversees the section.
Cynics will inevitably deride Newsweek's print revival as a symptom of atavistic naivete. "Why not re-open Blockbuster stores while we're at it?," Mediaite columnist Joe Concha snarled when news of the resurrection broke in December. Even IBT Media didn't see print in the cards when it bought Newsweek for an undisclosed sum last summer. The 9-year-old stable of websites, anchored by The International Business Times, was a digital insurgent flying under the radar in a crowded market. Its early-30-something founders had no real interest in print publishing. Then they crunched the numbers. "Reviewing the economics of print a few months after the acquisition, we realized that at the right price, the Newsweek print magazine could be profitable," chief executive Etienne Uzac told Capital through a spokesman. "We think this can happen very quickly." (As a whole, IBT Media finished 2013 in the black, said a spokesman for the company.)
Modest circulation will keep printing and distribution costs at bay. In 2014, the company is aiming to ensnare 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and another 100,000 for an "EMEA" edition focusing on Europe, the Middle East and Africa. At press time, talks were ongoing with several major advertisers that Impoco declined to name on the record, but "we're doing this based on subscriptions, and a shockingly small number of subscribers will make us whole," he said. (Uzac declined to specify the newsstand and subscription prices.) Editorial overhead is relatively low as well. While Impoco has recruited heavyweights like Kurt Eichenwald and Matthew Cooper and scattered a few foreign correspondents around the globe, the newsroom headcount is around 40, he said. Compare that to the hundreds of journalists Newsweek used to employ and the roughly $45 million it used to spend printing the magazine every year, according to a source with knowledge of the books, who added that foreign licensing deals were bringing in around $2 million in icing as of 2012. Mutter said print launches are always "a very heavy lift," but if Newsweek is "modestly successful, they should be able to create a profitable business that helps promote their digital side."
Newsweek has at least one thing working in its favor. "I was always struck in my last years there by its ability to persist, which speaks to the power of the brand in the face of a ton of negative press," said Mark Miller, the magazine's former editorial director. "It did and it does still have a certain currency that reflects the enduring power of a brand that's that old, that's had a presence in many people's lives. I was happy when I read it was coming back."