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Why Newsweek may be the first of many casualties

“…the overwhelming majority of my media consumption these days is digital, and magazines in general are beginning to seem a bit slow and uninspired. I go to the airport newsstand because I know I’ll be asked to turn my electronic devices off — and even then, more often than not, I end up buying nothing.
All the magazines I’ve had over the years have had some kind of “wow” factor — something which made them seem a few steps ahead of wherever I happened to be. I still get that “wow” factor today — but I get it almost entirely online. The age of the magazine is coming to an end, slowly; the age of digital is only in its infancy.”

FELIX SALMON www.blogs.reuters.com (22 October, 2012)

Felix Salmon is one of my favourite bloggers. He caught my eye a few months ago when he stated, boldly: “(Twitter is) the single most valuable news source I have — and I work at the world’s biggest news organization.”

Salmon is a columnist/blogger at Reuters, an organization that probably did not want that little gem stated to the public. Yet there is no denying the fact that the world is changing so fast now that barely a person or organization can keep up with the daily landslides occurring under our feet.

Last week, Newsweek was laid to rest. Or rather, its print version was; the venerable newsmagazine announced that it will cease printing and migrate to an all-digital model.

Like many people, I felt some sadness at this news. During my teen years, my father was an avid subscriber to several weekly publications, Newsweek amongst them. I therefore became an admirer of the weekly analysis and opinion pieces that provided a tremendously useful snapshot of the world we lived in.

But here’s the thing: I haven’t bought a print copy of Newsweek since…I can’t remember when. Probably around the time I bought a proper smartphone (followed by a tablet computer) and discovered the world of Twitter and mobile apps that brought the world’s media to my fingertips.

Newsweek mattered in an age when information and analysis were scarce. That is not the case today. Everything is, to use a phrase that’s already tired, just a click away. I will not walk to a newsstand to purchase a printed magazine anymore, or carry it around. Like Felix Salmon, my media consumption is nearly all digital now.

For most of my generation and those who came before, printed matter was a non-negotiable part of life. My generation needs to pay great attention to teenagers. When did you last see a youngster reading a printed newspaper or magazine? Now understand what’s already happening to your world.

And so Newsweek is going digital. Will it thrive there? Ah, more problems. I forgot to add: I have never bought a digital version of Newsweek either, and I don’t think I’m alone. Why? Because it doesn’t really have any content unique enough to be worth buying in digital space. In addition, it will struggle to amass sufficient eyeballs in a digital format to be of interest to advertisers. Very few publications have managed a digital migration at all well. I suspect we may be saying goodbye to Newsweek as a brand as well as a physical product rather sooner then we think.

Newsweek is merely an early casualty in a long line to come. Businesses that rely on printed matter – newspapers, magazines, books, textbooks, maps, directories, letters – are all under threat. Their business economics no longer make sense, and their customers are departing daily, seduced by the convenience of mobile gadgetry. At best, they will survive only as niche producers serving specialist markets. They all need to wake up, look up and look sharp. Rapid reinvention is needed, of brands and formats. The future is uncertain, but the past is already gone.

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