Will Newsweek Succeed in Jumping to Digital?

We all know how much the digital change has impacted books, newspapers, and periodicals, but the latest canary in the printing press is a bit of a surprise. Newsweek, yes, the magazine you find in your doctor’s office waiting room, or grab on your way to boarding a plane, is going all digital. This is going to be a huge problem…for doctor’s offices everywhere. Seriously, though, this is big. Newsweek is a major print magazine, so for them to make the jump to a purely digital format that says a lot about the risk in remaining a traditional print publication.

The positives for Newsweek in this are pretty obvious. They’re cutting their costs immensely, and becoming more nimble in how they can report on the news. Magazines are a tough, tight business. Print too few and you leave money on the table, print too many and you’re burning money. Unlike books, you can’t print extra and gamble on selling any unsold copies as remainders. Overprinted magazines make bad-smelling kindling, and that’s about it. More importantly, they’re no longer bound to a printing deadline. In an age when the news moves as fast as your smartphone can receive it, Newsweek can have an updated article or news analysis pushed to your device immediately, as opposed to waiting a week for the next magazine edition.

Now, in the official letter announcing this change, Newsweek mentioned that their digital distribution has been strong, and that base is what’s encouraged them to make this change. I don’t doubt that they’ve seen a great deal of demand for digital magazines, but the real question is whether the readers who haven’t yet gone digital are going to follow. Hopefully they will, but it will be a tough transition for many people. I know my own parents have been receiving Newsweek since I was a kid, and while they have iPads and iPhones, I don’t know that their dedication to Newsweek is so great that it will get them reading digital magazines. It’s just as likely that they’ll cancel their subscription and only read TIME magazine. It will be interesting to see if the brand power of Newsweek is strong enough to bring over previously paper-focused readers.

The biggest benefit and potential upside for Newsweek is the timing. The Kindle Fire HD is out, the NOOK HD is out, and the iPad Mini is (possibly) coming this week. So throughout the holiday season, there will be plenty of opportunity for future buyers of digital magazines to end up with the perfect device to read Newsweek in January 2013. Hopefully the right mix of new content and new hardware will provide the tipping point Newsweek will need! And if Newsweek succeeds in this venture…who will be next?


Categories: eBooks


3 replies

  1. Earlier this year our newspaper began forcing a digital subscription as part of the noral subscription and increased the price by ~35%! (which makes a total of 100% increase in the four years we subscribed since moving here) We cancelled immediately.
    Why does this matter? Because we simply didn’t think we would use the digital edition – and this is ME and my 99% iPad life here …
    Same goes for Newsweek. We enjoy the print copy, not sure how digital will fare.

  2. I don’t think they’ll succeed unless they’ve got a sugar daddy corp. willing to burn through quite a lot of money. It’s not because I don’t think an online-only magazine can’t succeed–they can, obviously; HuffPo, Slate, Drudge, Salon all do, with different business models–it’s because my observations of “old media” companies is that they totally flail when moving into the online world. If they have a lot of money they can burn through while finding their footing, they might make it. But I honestly don’t think a corporation is going to be patient enough with that.

    Also, why would you read Newsweek “Now Online!” at all? Why not go to your already-existing favorite site instead? I go to TPM for my news, and follow pointers from my Twitter feed (*none* of which *ever* point to Newsweek or Time [except for the very rare pointer to Swampland]).

    If they had tried this 15 years ago, then they might make it. Now? I think they’re dead. But then, I’ve thought they were dead ever since they made Tina friggin’ Brown the lead editor.

  3. Newsweek was already such a failure in print that the Washington Post Company sold it for a dollar along with the assumption of debt two years ago. Perhaps this move is a shrewd one, but, frankly, I think it will just continue its rapid decline to total failure with this decision.