It is currently rare to come across a news publication boasting of profit-making. Newsweek is scrambling for survival and was just sold for a dollar to Sidney Harman. USA TODAY has announced to restructure its business model to move online after suffering the repercussions of reduced circulation. Yet despite the trends for printed news sources, Time is successfully able to produce a hardcopy of its magazine for a profit. While other rival papers are struggling to break even, Time will probably earn a profit of more than $50 million for 2010. In a toxic environment for print papers, what factors distinguish Time from other news magazines? Rick Stengel, Time's managing editor, comments to The Washington Post that his strategy was to stay ahead of the curve in a failing industry. "We saw what was coming. We wanted to fix the roof when the sun was shining."
Until recently, Newsweek and Time magazine have maintained similar statuses in the industry. Both news magazines decided to downsize, with Time reporting cutting circulation from 4 million to 3.25 million. Yet Time differed from Newsweek on the direction of its content, writing straightforward analysis of stories that took a left of center spin, said the Washington Post, while Newsweek swung left and produced more opinionated essays and columns. A year later, Time's strategy seems to be proving much more successful than that of Newsweek.
Time slowly consolidated its newsroom long before technology truly threatened print. Over the last four years, Stengel has let go nearly 50 staff members out of about 200 total positions. He said he relies on freelancer writers along with maintaining a staff of prominent journalists which include Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman. Notably, Stengel has hired a range of writers who can help promote Time, such as Mark Halperin from ABC and Fareed Zakaria from CNN. These premeditated changes in his business model have helped to sustain the profitable print version of Time, he said.
Another simple but significant decision Stengel took to promote his print edition was to move the weekly publication date from Monday to Friday. As people seem continuously less interested in reading long-form journalism, making the slimmer news magazine a weekend read becomes more realistic to the consumers' taste. The cover is promoted on MSNBC's Morning Joe every Thursday, thus Stengel is able to use other sources of the media to advertise his magazine.
Undoubtably newspapers need to leverage the internet to survive in the industry, and Time Magazine is no exception. It launched, for example, the Swampland blog which Stengel claims creates a more interactive relationship for its users. The Economist, another news magazine that is fairing well in the industry, can probably attribute its success to recognizing changes in technology and communications. The Economist changed its business model by using more social platforms along with putting up paywalls for its online content. The issue of paywalls still remain a challenge for the Time as it ponders how to gain revenue from web access.
Time's formula for continuing its printed edition does not appear incredibly complicated, yet the small and steady adjustments over time have made a difference. Reading long form print is becoming a luxury activity rather than a necessity, and thus Stengel's combination of top tier reports, a weekend publication, and the right type of content is a winning combination in the news industry.
Sources: The Washington Post