Newsweeklies Struggling To Adapt To The Web
from the timeliness-and-competition dept
The Wall Street Journal has a good article looking at the decline of the major newsweeklies, Time and Newsweek. Each has gone through a round of employee buyouts, and they're struggling with how to adapt to the new media environment created by the Internet. Newsweek's editor is frustrated that his magazine has "this image that we're just middlebrow, you know, a magazine that your grandparents get." The web creates two fundamental challenges to a weekly magazine like Newsweek. First the web has raised the bar for timeliness. By the time the typical recipient of a newsweekly actually reads it, some of the articles will describe events that occurred close to two weeks ago. That makes it hard to compete with a news cycle that's measured in hours rather than days. It's no surprise, therefore, that people who grew up with the web aren't that interested in subscribing to Time and Newsweek. Fortunately, the newsweeklies appear to be addressing this challenge fairly well by beefing up their websites. We've praised Time for being one of the first mainstream media sites to make decades of archives freely available (and searchable) online. Unlike a few years ago, the Time and Newsweek websites are now clearly much more than an afterthought, with a stable of high-profile bloggers and a variety of original multimedia content. These kinds of features go a long way to attracting younger readers.
The more fundamental challenge, though, is the sheer number of new competitors in the media marketplace. A sharp increase in competition almost always leads to the erosion of market share for the incumbents, even if the incumbents execute perfectly. In this case, the proliferation of new options means that the demand for mainstream "middlebrow" reporting isn't as big as it used to be. Most people don't want to read the same generic mix of news that everyone else is reading. They want to customize their news, reading more about subjects they're most interested in and skipping subjects that don't interest them. That means that the 20th-century model, in which a handful of national media outlets publish "the news" that everybody reads, isn't going to work any more. Whereas a generation ago, most people subscribed to one newspaper and a couple of magazines, in the future people will cobble together their own mix of news from dozens of different websites, and from aggregators like Digg and Google News.
This means that sites will be more successful covering a few topics really well (and attracting a lot of links from other sites for their best coverage) than they will trying to cover every topic and often producing superficial, mediocre coverage. It also means that it's not reasonable to expect that most of a site's traffic will come from people who visit their home page on a daily basis. Rather, traffic is driven by being a part of the online conversation and getting other sites to link to and comment on your work. That's going to be a culture shock for a news organization that is used to having a more or less captive audience of several million subscribers who gets its magazine each and every week.