The Declining and Thriving News Magazines

While Time and New­s­week saw double digit falls in rev­en­ue last year, The Eco­nom­ist saw sim­il­ar sized gain­s—des­pite increas­ing sub­scrip­tion rates (pre­vi­ously).

The Atlantic dis­cusses this phe­nomen­on, look­ing in detail at why The Eco­nom­ist is thriv­ing in a mar­ket seem­ingly in decline.

The Eco­nom­ist prides itself on clev­erly dis­tilling the world into a reas­on­ably com­pact sur­vey. Anoth­er word for this is blog­ging, or at least what blog­ging might be after it matures—meaning, after it tran­scends its cur­rent status as a free-fire zone and settles into a more com­pre­hens­ive sys­tem of gath­er­ing and present­ing inform­a­tion. As a res­ult, although its self-mar­ket­ing subtly sells a kind of sleek, mid-last-cen­tury Con­corde-fly­ing sang­froid, The Eco­nom­ist has reached its cur­rent level of influ­ence and import­ance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true glob­al digest for an age when the amount of undi­ges­ted, undi­gest­ible inform­a­tion online con­tin­ues to meta­stas­ize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009.

True, The Eco­nom­ist vir­tu­ally nev­er gets scoops, and the inform­a­tion it does provide is avail­able else­where … if you care to spend 20 hours Googling. But now that inform­a­tion is infin­itely rep­lic­able and per­vas­ive, ori­gin­al report­ing will nev­er again receive its due. The real value of The Eco­nom­ist lies in its smart ana­lys­is of everything it deems worth knowing—and smart pack­aging, which may be the last truly unique attrib­ute in the digit­al age.

It’s worth not­ing that The Atlantic is being quite mod­est with this piece—it too has rein­ven­ted itself recently, no doubt increas­ing its read­er­ship greatly.

The art­icle’s not per­fect, though; it states that “almost no one links to The Eco­nom­ist” and that “it sits primly apart from the orgy of link love else­where on the Web” while “[remain­ing] primar­ily a print product”. I dis­agree on all these points.

I did, how­ever, like this insight:

New­s­weeklies were inten­ded to be coun­ter­pro­gram­ming to news­pa­pers, back when we were drown­ing in news­print and needed a digest to redact that vast inflow of dead-tree objectiv­ity.

I’m ask­ing myself, could the suc­cess of The Eco­nom­ist be attrib­uted to its evol­u­tion from news­pa­per coun­ter­pro­gram­ming to coun­ter­pro­gram­ming for the “undi­ges­ted, undi­gest­ible inform­a­tion online”?

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