The future of the newsweekly (is bleak)

Michael Hirschorn has written an interesting piece for the Atlantic called The Newsweekly’s Last Stand. As I’ve said here many times, while “the magazine format” is alive and well, certain magazine “business models” and certain genres of magazines are greatly endangered. The general newsweekly is tops on that list. Newsweek is trying valiantly to survive and I have become a fan of its editor (and fellow Tennessean) Jon Meacham (primarily through my enjoyment of his non-fiction books). But, as Hirschorn points out, it is going to be tough for the newsweeklies (and we’re talking just Time and Newsweek) to redefine what they are. Newsweek, as is obvious from those who are receiving its newly re-formated, re-designed and re-positioned iteration, is attempting to be something like the Economist, NewYorker and the old Newsweek. Time, on the other hand, keeps getting curiouser and curiouser — it contains, I’m sorry, a continuous stream of mis-directed and poorly informed articles.

Hirschorn’s piece, rather than being about Time or Newsweek is, rather, a love-letter to The Economist.

However, the reason I wanted to point to his essay is found in the last paragraph of the piece — which I doubt few readers other than his closest friends and kin have made it to. It contains the key to successful magazine publishing, and, frankly, the success of any media today:

“General-interest is out; niche is in. The irony, as restaurateurs and club-owners and sneaker companies and Facebook and Martha Stewart know—and as The Economist demonstrates, week in and week out—is that niche is sometimes the smartest way to take over the world.

For a reason I have often explained here (mass merchants need mass media), the business model of consumer magazines has been all about getting in front of the most eyeballs as possible. The same mis-guided theory also drives the “page view” advertising metric online.

But today, our media choices are driven by our personal and professional passions. Our purchasing decisions are informed by the content and conversations found in the niche media and communities to which we subscribe and belong. It’s not a hard concept — unless you are still trying to be a mass medium.

Passion = niche. It’s an easy formula to remember, even for media people who have never studied math.