Posts about ew

Are magazines doomed, too?

Condé Nast folds Portfolio even as it starts Wired in print in the U.K. So which are we to take as the harbinger for the future of magazines?

I hate to be calling doom for yet another medium, but I fear that Portfolio is the better indicator. We’ll see magazines fold and it’s going to be a lot riskier to start new ones to replace them — riskier because, just as on TV and in movies and music, it’s harder to create a blockbuster and consumer magazines depend on the blockbuster economy. Magazines don’t make money until they hit magic numbers of circulation (which comes only after renewals reduce marketing costs) and advertising (which is sold at heavy premiums and that market is bound to suffer both in a recession and against unlimited competition from online). In the U.S. market, subscriptions are so heavily discounted ($1 per issue for a product that can cost $5 or more to print and distribute) and marketing costs are so high (subscriber acquisition can hit $20 or $30) that the risk is only greater.

Entertainment Weekly, my baby, went through an astounding $200 million before becoming profitable. No one is going to invest that kind of money again. If anybody would, it was Condé. Oh, well, so much for that.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak on a panel at a magazine industry meeting. A few days before the event, the organizer called me and said, “Uh, Jeff, are you going to say that magazines are doomed? And if you are, could you not come?” So in a rare moment of preparing for a panel, I actually thought about what I thought and I concluded that magazines weren’t doomed. They have the unique value of slickness and focus that their publishers always brag about. And, I reasoned, magazines already were communities and so they should be perfectly positioned for the community-based internet. Magazines are collections of people who are interested in the same stuff. The challenge for an editor is to figure out ways to enable them to share with each other, to become a platform for that community.

Afraid I was wrong. Or at least, it’s hard to name a magazine that has done a good job becoming that community platform. The problem, as I said of newspapers in relation to GeoCities and MySpace the other day, is that magazines can’t stop thinking of themselves as content. They’re not communities.

If I proposed EW today, I’ve said here before, I wouldn’t make it a magazine, not for a second. It would be a community of criticism about all forms and tastes in entertainment, growing far, far bigger than its razor-thin page-count these days. But those communities already exist online; they’ve organized themselves. They don’t need EW. I hear that EW is suffering as a result. And it’s probably too late to rescue itself. It would pain me if EW followed Portfolio. But it wouldn’t shock me.

Can other magazines save themselves? I still think it’s possible. But then, I said that magazines weren’t doomed.

Mind you, I’m not saying that magazines are going to start dropping like flies and newspapers. When the economy comes back, many will still be able to sell their targeted, engaged audiences to advertisers for a premium … at least for awhile. Some may even manage to pull off a metamorphosis into community platforms and a few high-value titles — see: The Economist — can even grow. But when the weak ones die, there’ll be none to replace them.

And there are so many ready to die. Who needs newsmagazines? Business magazines are suffering the tragic irony of being at the same time more necessary and less supportable because of the financial crisis. Men’s magazines have been folding. Entertainment magazines are dicey. Trade magazines are dropping. And the list goes on and on.

So what about Wired? I don’t know, knowing what you know now about the state of the economy and magazines, would you have decided a year ago or so to start a new one?

The death of Portfolio doesn’t yet presage the doom of magazines. It marks the doom of magazine launches.

: Speaking of Can anyone explain how this story is wired?

A homecoming at EW

I see that my baby, Entertainment Weekly, has a new editor, its fourth: Jess Cagle, who was part of the launch team at EW (when he was known as “young Jess”). My congratulations to him.

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.

My baby’s 1,000

I was gobsmacked and delighted to see that my baby, Entertainment Weekly, just came out with its 1000th issue (and they’re about to issue a redesign in its 1001st; I had to redesign it after only 15 issues because — I’ll now confess since I couldn’t then — the first design sucked). I also happened to have breakfast yesterday with old friend Scott Donaton, who’s the new boss of the business, and was also glad to see it’s in good hands.

Media on media

I’m going to be on Howie Kurtz’s Reliable Sources this Sunday (about 1045a) talking about the death of critics. Fun part: I’ll be on with Gene Seymour, movie critic at Newsday, who just took a buyout there. I met Gene way back early in his career when I started Entertainment Weekly. A lot has happened to criticism since then.

Here’s my April 2006 column playing taps for critics. Here’s David Carr’s NY Times piece on the trend, which essentially gives voice to producers complaining that they’ll get less free publicity. (But one might point out that if they advertised more in newspapers, newspapers could better afford those critics.) And here’s a comprehensive post in Filmdetail.

What this really gets down to is:
* The dire economic situation newspapers and magazines face.
* The ecology of links that makes local coverage of national beats wasteful.
* The commodification of criticism. When I started EW, I stole an idea for a feature from the Berlin city magazines Tip and Zitty, creating a critical consensus chart that converted all the pundits’ opinions into a letter grade (our conceit). The opinions and their expression didn’t vary widely. The essential consumer service here is: what’s it about, who’s in it, how is it?
* The death of one-size-fits-all media and entertainment. Just because you like it doesn’t mean I have to, not anymore.
* Above all, I believe, this is driven by the fact that we do now and have always trusted the opinions of friends over those of alleged influencers, whether those influencers are newspaper critics, TV commentators, or unfamiliar bloggers.

I’ve said before that if I launched EW today, it would not be a magazine of critics but a site of viewers, a place for peers to compare notes and recommend entertainment to each other. Entertainment should have been the first realm of news coverage to become soclal.