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Newsweek succumbs to ad slippage, will kill print pub

Bets its future on fondleslab subscribers

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Citing "the challenging print advertising environment," Newsweek – which will turn 80 next year – has announced that it is canning its print publication and transforming itself into a single, worldwide digital edition, Newsweek Global.

"Newsweek will transition to an all-digital format in early 2013," wrote The Newsweek Daily Beast Company editor-in-chief Tina Brown and CEO Baba Shetty in a joint statement. "As part of this transition, the last print edition in the United States will be our Dec. 31 issue."

The plan is to support Newsweek Global through paid subscriptions, and to make it available on the web and in fondleslab editions available through the Apple, Kindle, Zinio, and Nook stores.

The Daily Beast launched in October 2008, and acquired Newsweek in November 2010 after The Washington Post sold it in August of that year to the now-deceased audio pioneer and philanthropist Sidney Harman for one dollar. That deal was not as sweet, however, as it might seem: Harman agreed to assume $47m in Newsweek liabilities.

"Since the merger," Brown and Shetty write, "both The Daily Beast and Newsweek have continued to post and publish distinctive journalism and have demonstrated explosive online growth in the process."

Note that word "online" – paper-based publications are under the gun these days, facing increasing costs and declining revenues. As Brown and Shetty explain, "our business has been increasingly affected by the challenging print advertising environment, while Newsweek's online and e-reader content has built a rapidly growing audience."

The statement puts a brave face on the change to the all-digital Newsweek Global. "We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it," it reads. "We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents."

That said, job cuts are coming. "Regrettably," the statement admits, "we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the US and internationally."

Whether the venerable print publication can make the transition to a paid-subscription business model that takes advantage of what the company calls "swift, easy digital distribution" remains to be seen. Many have tried, and those that are currently succeeding – The New York Times, The Financial Times, Barron's, and The Wall Street Journal, for example – tend to have either a relatively well-heeled subscriber base or provide specific market information, with a good portion of their subscriptions presumably paid for by businesses rather than individuals.

Rupert Murdoch's mass-market all-digital attempt, The Daily, for example, hasn't exactly set the world on fire. It cut 50 staffers just this August, despite News Corp's deep pockets and a much-ballyhooed rollout in February 2011.

Perhaps Newsweek's transition to all-digital distribution was inevitable – but Newsweek Global's success certainly isn't. ®

Bootnote

File Vanity Fair's response to the Newsweek news under "Kick 'em when they're down." In a Thursday blog post discussing the transition, that high-minded publication wrote, "Pairing stock images and incendiary statements at random and slapping them on the cover did not, in the end, turn out to be a business-saving publishing model." It also ridiculed Newsweek's attempts at enticing readers, saying, "Are you a person who is likely to buy a magazine if you see a photograph of a woman pantomiming oral sex with a root vegetable on its cover?" Meow, indeed.

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