Whither Entertainment Weekly?

Rumors have had it for a few weeks that Entertainment Weekly might kill its print edition and go fully online. Now it’s an Official Rumor from the Official Monger: It’s in Gawker.

Now I suppose I could look at this as the death of my baby or as a continuation of my print jinx. But if it’s true, I’d see it as a necessary metamorphosis. And no, that’s not because I hate print.

But print weeklies are looking doomed without my hex. Newsweek is cutting staff and circulation. I got a Time this week and it was so thin I could have used its spine as a razor. U.S. News is essentially no longer. Business Week is struggling. TV Guide is walking dead. Even mighty People was down last year. Weekly is weakly.

I’ve said in recent years that if I launched EW today, it wouldn’t be as a magazine. Nor should it be as a collection of critics and features. In my book, I say: “One-size-fits-all won’t work anymore, but a system that helps us help each other find the best entertainment would be valuable. If I were to start Entertainment Weekly today, it would be that: a collaborative Google of taste. Today we have ways to make entertainment more of a social experience.” EW should be a system, not a magazine or even a site.

I’ve asked myself whether I’d be sad if EW no longer published a magazine. I do, as Gawker points out, take some pride in starting this x-hundred-million-a-year print brand. But I take my pulse and feel no palpitation. Print isn’t special.

I would feel sad if the brand and franchise died. If they did, it would be because they didn’t update – not today but years ago. Just as newspapers should have seen the impact of the internet coming on more than 13 years ago, so should EW and other magazines, especially a magazine about entertainment in an era of exploding art world and about taste in an era of democratized opinion. Nothing is forever.

: In the comments, Parenting founder Robin Wolaner adds:

Jeff, I have similar feelings about the inevitable demise of Parenting. As the founder, I would rather have people know what I created – a brand that made $20 MM in profits annually in its day. But the print parenting magazine publishers, including our alma mater, haven’t recognized how much better online information serves their audience, so the magazines have been doomed for a decade. It’s just a matter of the advertisers catching on to the artificial circulation levels.

  • Safran

    Jeff:

    I was a charter subscriber. I’ve had EW ever since. It’s one of a handful of mags I still get. I like paper, dammit. I don’t get as much of it as I used to (the daily newspaper, for one) but I still like my dead trees editions of personal favorites.

    I think there should be some sort of gift for those of us who were charter subs and who will be lifetime subs. Lifetime of EW, I mean.

  • http://www.tbd.com Robin Wolaner

    Jeff, I have similar feelings about the inevitable demise of Parenting. As the founder, I would rather have people know what I created – a brand that made $20 MM in profits annually in its day. But the print parenting magazine publishers, including our alma mater, haven’t recognized how much better online information serves their audience, so the magazines have been doomed for a decade. It’s just a matter of the advertisers catching on to the artificial circulation levels.

    Robin

  • http://sciencevsromance.net josh

    You know, not everything is or should be Google. I have no idea what you even mean by your seemingly reflexive Googlechecking recommendation for EW. Google is neither a content generator nor collaborative nor social. EW’s website is on track to be those things.

    Further, I worry that in celebrating distributed and democratic content, I’m concerned that too many are neglecting the value of thoughtful, informed, full time critics and writers.

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  • Tom Davidson

    @Josh:

    <>

    That’s because only people who went to journalism school – or, heavens, didn’t, but somehow got to call themselves “journalists” – can be thoughtful or informed, right?

    I would encourage you to read some of the Top 100 reviewers on IMDB or other social/user-generated sites. I would then urge you to compare those reviews to those of some of the critics at mid-sized newspapers who are losing their jobs left and right.

    -tgd

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Josh – a system to find the opinions of others I do respect.
    Too many people? Name three.

  • http://timwindsor.com Tim Windsor

    Maybe this is an example of “All politicians are crroks; I love my congressman,” but while I see the inevitability of bits – and am a huge champion of this notion on the daily side – this hurts.

    EW – in print – is something I look forward to every week. My daughter and I fight over who gets it first. There’s a simple organization that seems to work, for me. I’d hate to see it go.

    Not all print should disappear. I’d argue that popcult mags might be something that could and should survive.

  • marti schiff

    say it ain’t so, Jeff! some magazine categories will move primarily to the web but not all. EW is on the cusp I fear… that said many people still prefer to receive their magazines in print format. i can’t image reading House Beautiful or Vanity Fair or The New Yorker on the web. i hope pubs can find a way to charge for online subs and perhaps more than they do now for printed subs for those that prefer that format. if they can’t charge for online content or drive significant traffic to monetize w/advertising (which so far only a few sites have been able to do) then what? then they might consider being smarter about how they offer their product. cut out 5 weeks from the fulfillment pipeline so people get their first issue in a week or two. stop sending renewal notices and put everyone autorenew (not autopay but autorenew to eliminate renewal notices). i could go on.. the recession and accompanying ad decline will accelerate this process. magazines are not just printed things but brands. a few publishers have realized this and developed a brand that lives on line, with events, even TV. brand strength is key and content and leadership drives that.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Jeff,

    Couldn’t you really say print *advertising* (in magazines and newspapers) is failing? It seems the content is good enough to be consumed via the internet (where money is being made on advertising). What happens after more and more newspapers and magazines go under and the supply of content dries up. Doesn’t it seem like a lot of internet advertising is a parasite of other people’s content?

  • http://www.y-rd.blogspot.com Ellie Behling

    Jeff,
    Thanks for your comments. I completely agree.
    I too like “paper” as someone said, but I don’t think it should be the main product anymore. As long as publishers think of it as the main product, it holds them back from reframing content to thrive on the Web. I see it big time in the trade publishing world. Despite my love of paper, I sometimes wish we’d cancel our magazine so it would stop getting in the way of Web. I do think both could function, but we need to stop using print as our basis for everything. It’s kind of controlling!
    -Ellie

  • http://www.springpadit.com Jeff Chow

    Personally: I hope this isn’t true. EW has been part of my end of the week wind down for years. Essential bedside reading on a friday night to declutter the mind from the work week. Interestingly, it’s also one of the last magazines that I see my friends (late 20s early 30s) actually subscribe to.

    For EW as a business: Smart move. There are enough businesses trying to re-invent themselves when it’s too late. It’ll be very interesting to see how successful a business can be when they’re (relatively) proactive.

  • Winston Crabs

    I find it ironic that Gawker is reporting on this. They’ve seen reductions in pay and staff, and now their already overworked editors are being compelled to work weekends (reported in today’s NYO). Is this the future of journalism? Beware of what you wish for–the web 3.0 era promises nothing more than a race to the bottom.

    -Winston

  • Beaverific

    Ellie is right, the print paradigm does keep media companies from truly branching out as they should on the web. I work for a media company and can honestly say I can see the end of the print side as controlling the direction of the business. They won’t however, go down without a fight.
    I love the paper magazine as well, but it (as well as others) are seriously floundering. Need lifeline. STAT!

  • http://ronshewchuk.blogs.com/ Ron Shewchuk

    Jeff, you go too far. EW is a great print magazine. Your enthusiasm to bury print as a medium is a sign that your insightful analysis of the media is evolving into a weird self-serving kind of negative evangelism that forgets about the needs of the majority of readers. Print is dying from lack of advertising, not from a lack of reader enjoyment. Leafing through an excellent publication is still an important and valued part of human life. I worry that your zeal to speed its demise is a sign that you may have started to enjoy the taste of your own bathwater.

    You are one of the great intellects of our time – a real visionary. I admire what you’re doing to propose new models for the media and to draw attention to the huge opportunities that are being ignored by the traditional press. But don’t get so excited by the potential demise of an excellent publication that, if it dies, will be missed by many.

  • invitedmedia

    just raise the price of the print product to a point that it is profitable to keep around.

    i assume those who can’t live without it will pay up.

  • http://igreenbaum.com Kurt Greenbaum

    Well, I’d miss the paper magazine, I must say. Heaven knows, I rely on the web for tons of information — including entertainment. But I also love getting that piece of candy in the mail on Friday. I love having something light, portable and easy-to-digest just before lights-out with my head on the pillow. And, yeah, I love having the bathroom reading. There are some places my laptop just doesn’t need to go.

  • KC

    I loved getting Entetrtainment Wleekly but canceled when they went up against the Bible in their marketing campaign. Wouldn’t I rather have EW on my hotel nightstand then the Bible? No, and it looks like a few other people wouldn’t either.

  • DigiDuck

    I’m with the surprising number of web consumers here who prefer a pub like EW to arrive in print form. (What does that mean?)
    I find a great deal of entertaining reading in EW, even though I’ve seen ups and downs since its inception, including a recent down stretch. If memory serves, wasn’t it kind of dreary and ordinary when Jeff launched it and didn’t hit its stride after his departure? That’s not a bitchy grenade, btw, that’s a genuine question.
    At its best, EW is bright and pithy, unmatched by any newspaper or blog wallow I’ve seen. (Again, not bitchy.)

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  • toivo

    “I got a Time this week and it was so thin I could have used its spine as a razor. U.S. News is essentially no longer. Business Week is struggling.”

    Some are still growing like The Economist.

  • http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/barbararaab/ barbara raab

    Hi Jeff,

    And now I see the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are planning to stop home delivery most days of the week — although they say they will continue to publish a “pared down” print edition for newsstand sales on those days. Not sure I get the decision to keep printing but stop delivering, but it’s all part of the same recognition that newspapers are slowly (and probably too late?) having: that they are in the information business, not the printing-and-delivering business.

  • http://fab-inc.biz/blog Bryan R. Adams

    I get a lot of mags in the mail. I try to read them all on a timely basis. My weeklies get backed up a bit, except one. Entertainment Weekly is digested completely the Friday it comes in. I do love getting my news online and thru rss feeds, but I would not prefer EW this way. I’m sure I will grow to love it as it tries to evolve in order to survive, but give me a few more years in print form.

  • Kamille MacKenzie

    It might very well be true that EW is on the skids; I just received an offer in the mail to subscribe to EW for $10.00 for 55 issues! That’s 18 cents per issue! That wouldn’t pay for the ink on one page. I can only surmise that they know the magazine won’t be around by the time those ten dollar checks and charges come in. I noticed that they do not offer a “bill me” option for payment.
    I REALLY hate that print media is on its deathbed! In addition to having always loved hard copy magazines and newspapers, I also loved the job I had as an ad designer for a major newspaper before they outsourced it.
    The computer is great on so many levels, but I don’t want to spend 12 hours a day on it!

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