Spin layoffs, Time changes latest evidence of print magazines rethinking themselves

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Spin magazine laid off its editor-in-chief and managing editor Friday, as well as nine other staffers while its new owner Buzzmedia determines “exactly how print fits in with Spin’s multiple distribution points and growth initiatives,” Buzzmedia said in a buzzwordy statement. Last October the music magazine (where I worked on and off for about a decade) went to a bimonthly publishing schedule, a move its then CEO called “right-sizing for print.”

So what’s the right size for a print magazine — especially one with a niche audience already well-served by Web publications that are cheaper to produce — amid the increasingly brutal economics of publishing? Amy Chozick profiles Time Inc. chief Laura Lang, who is pushing magazines in that company’s stable away from their traditional role as authoritative brands toward a significantly more-consumer-oriented approach.

Instead, the focus seems to be on tailoring the company’s magazine properties around the digital consumer. Driving that plan is a trove of research that breaks down readers’ daily news cycle. The “Arc of the Day” study showed that in the morning readers want bite-size headlines and news flashes. In the afternoon, they are often at a desktop computer and want to grab a slide show or video, and at night they have time to engage in a deeper article. A related study also found that the average smartphone owner spends 1.4 hours a day waiting in line while browsing a device.


Lang told Chozick that making some Time titles digital-only was “not my focus right now.”

But figuring out how to make money is: The lovely, expensive print ad campaigns that kept so many magazines in high clover are dwindling. Lang tells Chozick that Time needs to be where consumers are, but ads on phones and tablets cost less than even Web ads:

But just as revenue from online ads doesn’t match print ad revenue, mobile presents an even greater challenge. The recently introduced People app has full-screen ads and “snap banners” that roll throughout articles as users scroll through gossip, but those ads aren’t expected to bring in as much revenue as print or online ads anytime soon.

One potential answer for print mags: Rich-person saviors. Chris Roush quotes from former BusinessWeek editor Stephen B. Shepard’s upcoming autobiography about the magazine. Shepard describes when McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw told him in 2009 that he might close the magazine if he couldn’t find a suitable buyer:

He asked my thoughts about potential buyers, and we discussed the usual suspects — from equity investors to big companies, such as Bloomberg. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had a vacation house next to Terry’s in Bermuda, had already told him he wasn’t interested in buying BusinessWeek, and Terry was determined, he said, not to sell to a private equity firm that would strip the magazine to nothing. He would rather close it, he told me, and he was prepared to do so.

Bloomberg came around, obviously. And Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has injected money and optimism into The New Republic. Spin’s digital/print future, whatever form it might take, may prove to be magnificent, but if I worked there I’d keep Duff McKagan’s number nearby just in case.

Related: Report: Barry Diller thinking of taking Newsweek online-only | Why rich people are investing in newspapers, again

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