Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The First Shall Be Last

It seems that the Good Book is right about the meek inheriting the earth, or at least the U.S. publication business. Consider:
  • Big-city dailies are closing or going into bankruptcy, while small-town papers thrive because they were doing "hyper-local" long before it was cool.
  • Publishing Group of America has grown rapidly by placing its magazines (such as American Profile) into weekly papers rather than duking it out with Parade and USA Weekend and the defunct Life for big-city dailies.
  • Major magazines are shutting down while niche titles spring up.
And look at the newsweeklies. A few years ago, the pundits talked about the battle between the two giants owned by Fortune 500 companies, Time and Newsweek, and wondered when they would drive smaller, independent U.S. News & World Report out of business.
The Economist was too much of a niche product to be considered, and The Week wasn't taken seriously because it did no original reporting and merely compiled and rewrote what had already been published. Now the two little (by circulation) British imports are prospering and actually growing circulation.

U.S. News has turned its weakness into a strength, abandoning the weekly business altogether, creating rankings for everything that moves (the latest is nursing homes), and launching digital and Web products left and right.
And what of the Big Two? They have shrunk to a shadow of their former selves in both ratebase and page count and can’t seem to figure out the Web.

Time can't scoff at The Week any more, not after it caught heat for picking up a poorly researched blog item that allegedly listed the 10 most endangered U.S. newspapers. At least The Week avoids opinion pieces masquerading as journalism.

Now we hear that Newsweek has decided to slash its ratebase, pattern its magazine after The Economist (You know, like requiring people to pay actual money for a subscription.), and copy the Web strategy of U.S. News.

The 21st Century will not be kind to mass media. It’s no longer enough to create good content, as Time and Newsweek still do. You have to provide people something they really want and can’t get anywhere else.

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