At a recent speech at Columbia University, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham asked which students read the magazine. None of them did. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, he delivered this stern response: “It’s an incredible frustration that I’ve got some of the most decent, hard-working, honest, passionate, straight-shooting, non-ideological people who just want to tell the damn truth, and how to get this past this image that we’re just middlebrow, you know, a magazine that your grandparents get, or something, that’s the challenge,” Mr. Meacham said. “And I just don’t know how to do it, so if you’ve got any ideas, tell me.”
You want ideas? See if there are some in The Economist’s success on the global market. The magazine’s top bosses have been awarded the Executive Team of the Year by AdWeek as much as the overall product as for the business performance. First, here are some figures of the trade :
circ USA…………..rev…………..rev…………..pages…………..pages2007 (m)………….. 2007——- 2006 —–chge 2007— 2006 chge ————————————————————————– ECONOMIST 0.73…………..31…………..24…………..+28%…………..693…………..613…………..+13%
NEWSWEEK 3.12 159 155 +2,4% 613 631 -2,8%
TIME 3.4 174 218 -20% 692 762 -9,2% ————————————————————————— Source : MPA- For The Economist the US circulation is half of the total. Even though the UK-based magazine is still five times smaller than Newsweek and Time, it is leaving the two others in the dust both in terms of volume and value growth. To prevent further erosion of its profitability, Newsweek has offered a buyout to 20% of its staff. What’s makes The Economist performing so well ? According to the editor John Micklethwait and publisher Paul Rossi, several factors are in play :
- The magazine’s global perspective. “It became more relevant when a Milwaukee factory worker can loose his job to somebody in India”, as Micklethwait puts it. Or even more since 9/11, “People have suddenly seen how their world can be turned upside down by a lunatic in a cave in Afghanistan”.
- Editorial positioning. The Economist is liberal on social issues and liberal on economic issues as well – that blurs traditional boundaries (and that is unthinkable in a country like France for instance where you must choose your side). – Depth, tone, pitch. The average readers spend 57 minutes a week. Writing is sharp, precise, informed, sometimes funny. Opinions are strong and argued. Angles are original (particularly in special surveys).
- Creativity to capture big ads. For example the interactive Energyville game made for Chevron by the Economist Group (supreme luxury : the magazine is trustable enough to avoid suspicion of coziness with such a big advertiser). - Even the website, that tends to be less and less paid-for by the way, is very thorough, with clever, often recursive, levels of reading.
- Its independence, protected by a board of trustees (and by its economic performance).
The Economist’s success is quite reassuring from a journalistic perspective. No one, not a single marketing egghead, would have a bet a cent on the success of such global positioning in the era of proximity obsession.