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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