Newsweek to reduce staff, eliminate print edition as it goes digital only in 2013

Newsweek will publish its final print edition December 31, the company announced Thursday morning. It will launch a subscription product called Newsweek Global, some of whose content will be available on the Daily Beast. A note from Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown lays out the change:

In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format. This was not the case just two years ago. It will increasingly be the case in the years ahead.

Layoffs will accompany the move: “Regrettably we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the U.S. and internationally,” Brown writes.

During an earnings call in July, IAC/InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller said Newsweek would announce a digital plan for the magazine this fall. After Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee (presciently) interpreted Diller’s statement to mean the magazine would eliminate its print edition, Brown emailed staff to note that Diller “did not say on the earnings call as reported that Newsweek is going digital in September.” Brown revealed today to The Wall Street Journal’s Keach Hagey that these discussions were under way before then. “We have been exploring it since June in a very aggressive way, because all the industry trends have told us that it was only a question of when, not if.”

According to Newsweek’s most recent publisher’s statement filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the company’s print circulation has dropped 51 percent since 2007. Currently, paid subscriptions to Newsweek’s digital-replica edition account for 1.8 percent of its circulation, according to the statement.

At the end of 2011, Lucia Moses wrote in Adweek about Brown’s first year as editor-in-chief and said “getting the combined NewsBeast into the black by early 2013—a time frame Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of Beast backer IAC, has said is reasonable—will be a daunting task.” Newsweek’s biggest problem, Moses wrote, preceded Brown’s arrival:

The magazine redesigned itself in 2009 as a “thought-leader” publication in the hope that it could attract affluent readers. It cut its rate base—the circulation guaranteed to advertisers—to 1.5 million from 1.9 million (that figure was itself considerably lower than the 3.1 million the magazine’s rate base had been at little more than a year before), with the idea advertisers would pay a higher rate to reach a more desirable audience. That’s not the way it worked out…. Newsweek budgeted for a 10 percent decline in print ad revenue in 2010, according to a sales memorandum distributed to prospective buyers; it ended up down 34 percent, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

In contrast, the magazine’s online publishing is faring better, according to Brown’s announcement:

The Daily Beast now attracts more than 15 million unique visitors a month, a 70 percent increase in the past year alone—a healthy portion of this traffic generated each week by Newsweek’s strong original journalism.

A June story in the Economist reports that consumer magazines generally are doing well financially, especially in Latin America. But news magazines may not follow the same trend lines.

Two years ago, IAC merged its Daily Beast with Newsweek, owned by Sidney Harman, who died in 2011. Harman’s family announced this summer that it would no longer invest in the company. Harman bought the magazine in 2010 for $1 from The Washington Post Company.

“Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” Brown says in the announcement.

Andrew Sullivan, who joined The Daily Beast in 2011, supports the move. “When asked my opinion at Newsweek about print and digital, I urged taking the plunge as quickly as possible,” he writes. “To have done it two years ago would have been even better.”

“We realize news of a big change like this will be unsettling. We wish to reassure you the transition is well planned, extremely mindful of the unavoidable impact on our staff and respectful of our readers, advertisers and business partners,” she told staff in a memo signed by her and Newsweek/Daily Beast CEO Baba Shetty. “More details on the new organizational structure will be shared individually in the coming weeks and months.”

David Carr reports on the announcement’s timing:

The announcement was timed, staff members said, to get ahead of next week’s earnings call for IAC, when Mr. Diller was expected to be peppered with questions about Newsweek’s losses.

An all-staff meeting was planned for 11 a.m. Thursday.

Related: The cover controversies (Poynter) | What will Tina Brown do with her final covers? (Ken Layne/The Awl) | “The all-digital future isn’t happening right this second” (Short Form Blog) | “The chances that Newsweek will succeed as a digital-only subscription-based publication are exactly zero” (Felix Salmon/Reuters) | “The spirit of Newsweek is alive and well at places such as The Huffington Post” (Howard Fineman/HuffPost) | Staffers leave Newsweek (Joe Pompeo/Capital NY)

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  • Ryo Saeba

    uh interessant .

  • Anonymous

    Newsweek first started going downhill when they hired Mr Meacham to redesign it. Yuck, That was the beginning of the end.

  • Anonymous

    I know one very good former Newsweek reporter Sharon Begley who got out on time and has been a Reuters reporter for some time now, covering the same beat. She made the right decision when she bailed.

  • Anonymous

    It’s over. Game over. The great US newsweekly wars are over. TIME wins. Newsweek will never recover. Sad day for print.

  • Anonymous

    let’s start a pool … see who can guess how long Newsweek Global lasts. Or we can bet on how many embarrassing cover stories Newsweek can publish before the end of the year.

  • Thomas Dennehy

    It takes courage to confront an unsustainable business and make the tough decision to shut down.

  • Emory Craig

    Let’s see, the magazine was sold for $1 in 2010. Now it’s worth . . . a penny? Going digital makes total sense except for one troubling little aspect. You still have to produce content and if you’re laying off staff, just how do you plan to compete with the alternatives – both those still in print and digital sources? In the end the real cost savings is not from ending a paper version but from what it cost to produce news stories and good journalism. You can’t do the latter when your staff exits with the paper version.

  • Randy Cassingham

    If it continued on after my expry date, it was only for an issue or two. I was shocked to not be asked to renew after all that time.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Oh, I’m sorry, Randy, I didn’t read your comment properly! So did you stop receiving copies after your subscription ended, if in fact it’s ended? Because based on the numbers in that circulation report, a lot of people whose subscriptions ended were still getting their mailboxes filled.

  • Alex Burk

    As author of “Dying Breed: The True Story of How the Internet Killed My Career as a Newspaper Reporter” this is the TRUE beginning of the end.

  • Randy Cassingham

    Andrew, as I noted in my comment, I was a PAYING subscriber. Had been for decades. They decided not to send me a renewal notice so I could PAY AGAIN. I could only conclude that they didn’t want me as a subscriber. (I didn’t take it personally: I figured they were doing this to many others too.) Whether it was policy or incompetence, that’s very sad.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Hey Randy, thanks for your comment. Publishers call those kind of copies “post-expiration copies” or “arrears,” and they have to list them in their circulation audits. Newsweek had 62,687 of those in its last ABC report, 4.2 percent of its paid circulation. In the Lucia Moses/Adweek article I linked to above, Jack Hanrahan, who edits a newsletter about circulation, told her that 4 percent is a high number, from an advertiser’s point of view.

  • Randy Cassingham

    I started getting Newsweek in college, mumbledecades ago. After Tina Brown took over, I saw my expiration was coming up …and they NEVER sent me a renewal notice. Apparently they didn’t really want paying print subscribers. Print circulation is down by half? I conclude that’s by design.

  • Anonymous

    Tina Brown is vastly overrated

  • Anonymous

    No one was buying this mess as a print magazine; no one should believe people are going to pay for online access.