The Web site that urged BusinessWeek to close its print edition and “go digital” this summer took a less radical tack yesterday, suggesting that the publication go bi-weekly.
Though flawed, the latest post from 24/7 Wall St. is still an insightful look at the choices that dead-tree-edition magazines have when facing the twin monsters of economic recession and loss of print advertising to the Web. Douglas A. McIntyre points out that the three to four days required to get the magazine to subscribers (the actual range is two to five, I think) is nearly an eternity in the financial content industry.
So why not go bi-weekly, he wonders, thereby saving about $20 million annually (in the ballpark, but a bit high if we assume each issue would have more pages and that editorial staff isn’t reduced) and probably losing few advertisers. As a biweekly, BW would have to focus more on features than on breaking news, McIntyre notes.
“BusinessWeek would have to drive a larger and larger portion of its readership to its website,” McIntyre says, revealing a fatal flaw in his plan. BusinessWeek is probably one of the best in the business at luring its readers online, but that probably only means it’s getting a small fraction of its print readers to go to its Web site rather than the minuscule portion that most other publishers get.
Typical readers don’t think in the print-versus-Web terms common among industry pundits these days. They go to print for certain things (longer reads, something to do on the train or toilet) and to the Web for others (breaking news, specific searches). They’re smart enough to realize that BusinessWeek is the place to go for thumb-sucker articles exploring counterfeit computer chips or trends in corporate innovation but that at least 20 Web sites do breaking business news better than businessweek.com.
Like most outsiders, and many insiders, McIntyre overstates the case for the Web and understates it for print (though he no longer advocates that BW "move completely to the internet," as he naively wrote in July). BusinessWeek’s nearly 900,000 subscribers are probably worth a few dollars per month each in advertising, while the 3 million unique monthly visitors to businessweek.com are probably worth far less. The Web site is nowhere close to supporting the 150 people (McIntyre’s count) on BW’s editorial staff.
He also pegs the average cost of producing and distributing a dead-tree copy at 75 cents and maybe close to $1. Even 75 cents seems high for a 96-page magazine on skimpy paper. (Close to $1? I’m giving up blogging and becoming a cost-reduction consultant.)
Nevertheless, McIntyre may be on target when he writes that it is “hard to make a case for the long-term survival of the print edition of BusinessWeek." In an age when even daily newspapers seem slow to market and business magazines are no longer bursting with ads, BW must rethink how it presents news, whether to trim its circulation, and even how often it prints. Maybe it should be called BusinessFortnight.