Good luck

Jon Friedman thinks he has the solution to Time magazine’s woes: distribute on Thursday instead of Monday. I tried that years ago when I launched Entertainment Weekly. I badly wanted it to arrive just before the weekend, at its freshest. But the distribution infrastructure makes that essentially impossible; the trucks roll on Mondays. We were supposed to have few newsstands, so I looked into special shipments directly to them (how about using this new thing called FedEx?) but that was horribly expensive. The Week magazine manages to do this but it is almost entirely subscription based and has very few newsstands.

  • My personal experience with Time, if anyone cares:

    From 7th grade until 12th grade I read Time regularly. In those years CNN became essential viewing, and Time tried to become more user friendly. They had cartoons, I think Calvin Trillin wrote a short column for them, and they had this “The Week” feature that presented news in brief and emphasized pictures and graphs. My interest in Time waned starting in 8th grade.

    The magazine that really made all the difference for me was National Review. Back then they had John Simon as movie critic, and his taste in movies is superb. They would also review books like Edward Said’s “Out of Place,” something that Time, I don’t think, would touch with a ten foot pole (for all I know, they could have reviewed it, so my bad if they did). Jeffrey Hart and Rob Long were exceptional writers, and even as I turned away from NR, I went back and found Hart’s discussions of Hemingway and Yeats in the book reviews wonderful, and Long’s depictions of life in Hollywood to be emblamatic of much more than he might have intended. Anyway, as Time got less wordy, I looked to NR to read more, and think more. I started reading First Things in college, and they were really solid for a time.

    I didn’t turn from Time because I thought it leftist junk. I turned from it, just like I turned from NR and First Things eventually, when they stopped offering me things to think about. NR’s best writers nowadays are Mark Steyn and Jonah Goldberg, and I can get plenty of them online. First Things I turned from for more subtle reasons – I don’t think their writers understand fully what sorts of citizens they’re bringing into being.

    Time’s “Man of the Year” type of gimmickery is just not going to do, I don’t think. The only way they can reassert themselves is by exploring and discovering more, and giving their readers something very different from what they give now. I’m going through their site (warning: what follows gets really obnoxious, even for me), and they have a comprehensive amount of news and a lot of interesting questions. But that’s not enough given that every other magazine and webzine does that. An interview a week with someone in business who’s trying to reach new markets or trying something innovative might really help their business section, and give it a depth and relevance I don’t see there just yet. Their arts section seems to be recommendation centered. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a practical arts section before, but this might be it. If they want to stick to that gameplan, then they probably want to review more books, but ditch the stories like “Who’s the best writer of this generation?” You can’t talk to your audience about stuff you haven’t prepared them for. Writing about trends goes against a recommendation engine’s purpose: you don’t track track trends overtly, you just report on what’s good. Quantity over a particular (literal) quality. The science section is difficult for me to comment on because I hate reading that stuff. Older friends of mine love to hear about natural remedies for things, and sites like digg are frequented by younger friends of mine who want as much tech news as possible. I prefer feature stories in news and politics where people go to entirely different places – like Belarus or something – and tell me what people there think, what life is like there, and how global politics is impacting the area. But I’m a different kind of reader. I like to know a lot, and not feel caught in the flux that is a continual news stream. I love interviews, because they tell me what another thinks is worth knowing when conducted right, and that’s not trivial at all for serious readers.

    It looks like most people do like the gatekeeping function of many publications, though. And if that’s the case, then my call for even more diversity in terms of topics and questions and for a depth that centers on what actual people are doing and thinking is not going to bring in readers. It’ll make a magazine better by my standards, but whether it will sell anything, God only knows.

    I remember when Reader’s Digest used to have tons to read per issue, and one could go back to those issues and read and reread. Same with the older NR issues. I miss those days.

  • Jeff, what about The Economist? I’m sure you know much more about magazines than I do, but they deliver on Fridays, right?

  • Hampton

    What does it matter to the readers {?} … news magazines are always ‘old’ news, whenever they might become available to the public.

    “…A newspaper tells you what happened yesterday, a magazine tells you what happened last week….Nightly TV news is much like a newspaper, but with bright colors & lights, and the radio is just someone with a nice voice reading you the newspaper..”

  • BusinessWeek distributes on Fridays. Most subscribers get it for the weekends (I think). The absolute best thing about it, of course, is that most staffers don’t have to work weekends.

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