Reader-nomics: The Economist shows Newsweek there is life left in print

By Mark Lowe | founding partner

October 25, 2012 | 4 min read

Tina Brown’s recent announcement that Newsweek, the title that once boasted three million subscribers, will leave newsstands forever looked like another coffin-nail for the news business.

For many, the demise of another iconic brand suggests that media institutions are being crushed by citizen journalism.

Newsweek is leaving the newsstand

But the success of The Economist suggests that the opposite is true. As news sources proliferate, strong brands are becoming more, not less important.

Brown spun the magazine’s decision to ‘go digital’ as a savvy nod to changing times, but no one is pretending that this is a success story.

Newsweek’s circulation has nearly halved in 24 months with the colossal costs of printing and circulating a weekly magazine finally becoming unsustainable.

That Newsweek is not alone is a story well told. Newspapers are shifting from print to digital and scraping around for ways to persuade readers and advertisers to cover their costs.

Meanwhile, The Economist has quietly increased its print circulation, with its growth in the US, now pushing one million, spoken of as a phenomenon.

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CEO Andrew Rashbass shows false modesty when he ascribes the magazine's success to luck, but there is no doubt that it has been in the right place at the right time.

As the great cheerleader for globalisation, The Economist has also been its major beneficiary. The last decade has seen its core audience - a transient, global business elite - emerge and expand.

It’s an audience advertisers salivate over, not just because of its huge spending power but because even if global wealth diminishes its share will grow.

Equally important is the fact that, although The Economist is clearly agenda-setting, it has never been in the business of breaking news.

To put it in Economist-speak, the news market is suffering from massive over-supply. Social media mean that anyone can get involved and this pushes down the returns. How you make a business out of it has become a question of labyrinthine complexity.

What many citizen journalists can’t do is analyse current affairs in a meaningful and concise way and it is here that The Economist is peerless.

With erudite correspondents in corners of the world that other newspapers can only dream of reaching, it has a scale that few have the capacity or the balls to match.

Noone at the The Economist pretends that the future lies in print, but they do recognise that the ubiquity of a printed magazine in airports and retailers helps to build a dominant global brand.

Meanwhile, as its readers embrace tablets and smart-phones, the magazine tweaks its presentation, knowing that outstanding content sells itself.

Mark Lowe is a founding partner at Third City. Follow him on Twitter @markrlowe

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