By Paul Gillin | October 20, 2012 - 3:33 pm - Posted in Business News, Layoffs, R.I.P.

A year that has already seen the demise of one print institution – Encyclopedia Britannica – has now marked the end of another. Newsweek magazine will publish its last print edition in December and relaunch in an all-digital format in 2013.

The 79-year-old newsweekly’s exit from print  leaves only Time magazine standing in a market that once supported three robust competitors. US News & World Report, which was launched the same year as Newsweek, published its last print issue two years ago.

No one is particularly surprised at this development. Newsweek has bounced around between different owners for two years. The Washington Post Co. sold it for $1 in 2010 to 92-year-old  stereo equipment magnate Sidney Harman, who promptly died. Before doing so, however, he placed the magazine into a joint venture with Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, where it became a sibling to The Daily Beast in an awkwardly titled business unit called The Newsweek Daily Beast Co. By that time, the magazine’s circulation had plummeted from a peak of over 3 million to 1.4 million.

Newsweek cover: Princess Diana at 50Editor Tina Brown tried to enliven the print magazine with provocative tactics like a July 2011 cover depicting what Princess Diana would have looked like at age 50, but some media observers thought the racier fare was out-of-step with the magazine’s buttoned-down tradition. The U.S. magazine industry has actually seen a resurgence over the last three years, with revenues growing modestly and print startups exceeding closures by a three-to-one margin in 2012, according to the Associated Press.

That rising tide should have lifted Newsweek‘s boat, but Brown’s tactics took it in the wrong direction, said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism. “Newsweek did not die,” he told the AP. “Newsweek committed suicide.”

To be fair, Newsweek was already on life support when Brown inherited it. She  reportedly wept when she delivered the news to the Newsweek staff on Thursday. The closure will involve an unspecified number of layoffs.

Diller told The New York Times‘ Media Decoder blog that the Newsweek acquisition ”was a mistake.” With only 500 pages of print advertising this year,  ”It became completely self-evident that we couldn’t print the magazine anymore.”  Newsweek will actually continue to live in print through a handful of overseas licenses, but U.S. subscribers will next year find it replaced by the all-digital Newsweek Global, with a single, worldwide edition that requires a paid subscription.

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