The magazine business isn’t what it used to be. In the last ten years, Newsweek lost 2.5 million readers, and its newsstand sales are hardly worth mentioning. A full-page ad in it costs less than the price of a luxury car. Sold for a buck to the husband of an influential Congresswoman, merged with an internet site, it survives only by building issues around provocative essays and covers.
If you want to understand why Newsweek put a badly photoshopped picture of Obama with a gay halo on its cover or features Romney doing a number from The Book of Mormon, you need only look at those numbers. Fifteen years ago desperate tactics like that were for alt weeklies like The Village Voice, but Time and Newsweek are the new Village Voice.
There is no news business anymore, just media trolls looking for a traffic handout, feeding off manufactured controversies that they create and then report on. Magazines and sites struggling to stay alive while preaching to a narrow audience which likes essays by leftist cranks and mocking pictures of conservatives. And they’re not alone; any magazine that still covers politics, covers it in the same exact way.
There are house-style differences between the New Yorker, which still features its trademark cartoons, and Vanity Fair and Esquire, and Time and Newsweek, but they are all basically the same. The same essays repeating the same views for the same audience; all of them fighting for that small slice of elitist leftist pie.
The real 1 percent is right there. That small elitist fragment of America which writes books for itself, makes TV shows for itself and writes outraged articles for itself about a tiny 1 percent elite that runs everything. It has its own books, its own TV shows, its own music, its own stores, its own stations, its own brands and now it has most of the magazines to itself. It’s a claustrophobic village raising its own inner child with inane repetitions of its narrow-minded views.
If I’m reading through a long mocking piece on Midwestern Republican primary voters who support Michele Bachmann or an essay by a Muslim columnist on American Islamophobia, how can I tell which magazine I’m reading? Easy. Is it the one with a gay Obama on the cover or the one with a woman breastfeeding a three-year-old?
The story is no longer the story. Now the cover is the story with magazines reporting on their own covers, which become the story. And the story? Who cares about the story really. You can know everything about the story by glancing at the cover. And then you don’t have to buy it anymore, which explains why newsstand sales aren’t doing too well.
Magazines like to tell advertisers that every single subscription sale actually means five or six readers across a family. That’s wishful thinking. Families with five or six members are not buying Time or Newsweek these days. They might be subscribing to Popular Mechanics or Ebony.
Don’t weep for Newsweek though. It’s a brand and brands never die. They just get dumbed down and sold and resold. Five years from now Newsweek may be an airline magazine or an internet portal tracking Twitter news trends, but it will be around in one form or another. For now there’s Newsweek Polska with a six figure circulation, Newsweek Korea with 40,000 readers and Newsweek Pakistan with 15,000 readers. Perhaps one day Newsweekwill be remembered as a Pakistani news mag that got its start in the States.
The brands may have a future, but the content doesn’t. There are only so many provocative essayists around and only so many people willing to buy badly photoshopped covers featuring the controversy of the week. The friction of the controversy makes dull people seem interesting and stupid people seem smart. It makes the kind of people who moved to New York to be able to see Will Ferrell make fun of Bush on Broadway feel that they’re relevant, but there aren’t enough of them to support a magazine with international news bureaus and all the trappings of a serious news organization.
There’s barely enough money in that market to cover the expenses of Salon, Slate and The Nation, reliably lefty publications which cravenly feed their audiences its prejudices back in small doses. Time and Newsweek muscling into that same turf, not to mention every other site and magazine following that same business model, is a bit much.
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