Why Time?

Now that Time has a new editor — the word was that they’d get someone from the outside, but they got a veteran of the magazine — maybe he can explain to me why the magazine exists. Everytime I pick up Time, I come away feeling as if I just chewed their cud. If you read news on the web today, you get a better, quicker, more up-to-date overview. When I see a cover billing that interests me and buy the thing, it’s inevitably a mistake, because I’m reading a stone-skipping summary of something I know about. So why do we need Time? New managing editor Richard Stengel explains:

Mr. Stengel said yesterday that in some ways, the Internet poses the same kind of challenge to newsweeklies that the plethora of competing newspapers posed to Time when Henry Luce founded it in 1923.

“In a similar way, people were looking for one source to speak with authority and explain the world, and in many ways, that’s still our mission,” Mr. Stengel said. “We can be your guide through the forest of confusing information.”

No, actually, I don’t want you to explain the world to me. A guide, perhaps. But I’m sorry, I just don’t see Time as the one source to speak with authority and explain the world. I am quite glad the days are gone when anyone thought they could be that one source.

  • Time magazine will exist just as long as ad revenue exceeds costs. The NY Times dropped its weekly TV guide last week. They said there were too many channels to cover. BS, there just weren’t enough ads.

    The type of magazine that I see in real danger is the weekly/monthly opinion ones: Nation, TNR, Progressive, Weekly Standard, etc. Their finances are always marginal to begin with. We can now read the same (or better) commentators online while a topic is still hot instead of a week or two later. The fact that some of them are now placing articles and blogs online shows that they know they have a problem.

  • Seppo

    Also consider the dentist office factor. Many doctors and dentists receive free subscriptions to a variety of general-interest magazines, Time usually among them. Ads reach a large number of bored, otherwise looking for distractions patients.

    Many magazines have outlived their newstand and subscription usefullness, and are not “journalistically” relevant any longer, but retain a commercial usefulness as they ride the residual value of an established brand name into the sunset years.

    Think how long the Reader’s Digest was able to maintain commercial value, long after its social impact had faded into memory.

  • Jeff, I see the same waste of paper, I wonder the same thing when I see Time in the supermarket, or yesterday, when I scanned Newsweek at my dentist’s office and wondered what percentage of the subscriptions were dentists and doctors. But I reach a different conclusion, or at least I wonder … maybe there’s a fabulous opportunity for weeklies … because they may be a newsPAPER of the future.

    Of course, I mean that literally, which is not exactly optimism for the daily paper business. One of the challenges of a world flooded with information is how to help people spend LESS time with media and learn more from it. Some daily print products may have to scale back in just about every way to re-engineer their businesses to reflect the changing media economics.

    I could see “nondaily” magzines working on so many levels – highly visual, high-value analysis, aggegation (including aggregation of online analysis/comments) … in part designed to be read in front of the TV, or in bed. … also more environmentally justifiable (fewer dead trees).

    Am I talking about “news” magazines? No, not really. LIke you said, we know the news already. Maybe there’s a page or two to summarize headlines you may have missed. Or skipped. Maybe there’s some personlization with new printing technology. Maybe the content is SLOW – the exact opposite of the digital experience. Articles and photo stories that take a month to report and write, instead of an hour or a day. A useful nondaily might also include powerful visual storytelling reminiscent of Life or National Geographic, and include highly valued analysis that shares characteristics with The Economist, or Harper’s, or I don’t know, maybe it looks and feels more like Myspace … or all of the above. My point is, I agree that today’s nondailies make no sense. But maybe they just aren’t done well. Or, if there really are 4 million subscribers to Time, maybe I’m just entirely wrong about this.

  • hey

    One problem with Time is that it is too mass. It’s target audience is too broad, so it is aiming at a very low level reader. Weekly publishing doesn’t help.

    If one reads widely online, even papers are stale, as so much content is repurposed between them. High end papers (WSJ and FT) have value in breaking news, and they get people to pay for it, even online (I subscribe to both online). High end magazines do analysis, research, and break break news from places with little media attention (The Economist, with Forbes and Fortune doing some good work). Time is useless, just like monopoly dailies, the vast majority of the content at NYT, BusinessWeak… We have the news, online, from excellent sources, rather than on paper, a few days or weeks late, written by bad sources.

    There is much that will go away, thankfully. I do wonder why anyone buys Time… I stopped buying it when I was 19, when I noticed that I already knew everythign they wrote. 8 years later it’s even worse.