Just a few years ago, the accepted Web-print formula was pretty simple: print remained the primary outlet and print content was shoveled online. Although the argument could be made that that’s still the case among many magazine publishers, there is a widespread shift where online is becoming the primary outlet for news while print is reserved for the long, analytical stories. This is being seen most among weeklies, often in the tech category.

Editor & Publisher was the first prominent example of a magazine abandoning the weekly format, switching the magazine to monthly while bolstering the Web site in early 2004. Today, breaking news on the Web site is freely accessible but all other content is restricted to E&P subscribers. The number of unique visitors has grown from 125,000 to 1 million, according to publisher Charles McKeown. “We had almost no online advertisers and now 70 percent of our contract advertisers have a Web component in their packages.”

E&P has seen offsetting costs and savings with the move. “There are some not unsubstantial savings switching from weekly to monthly but it’s also harder to sell classified in a monthly,” McKeown says. “We didn’t have tremendous cost savings and we didn’t have a massive explosion in revenue. We’ve just done way better on the bottom line.”

Weeklies Hold On In Tech Space
A few months ago, CMP CEO Steve Weitzner said at the ABM Spring Meeting that CMP was reconsidering the role of weeklies. “What I said at ABM and still believe is that weeklies can no longer deliver the ‘breaking news function’ and that there is a lot of work being done to transform them into vehicles for analysis and opinion based on the news to make them useful strategic tools,” says Weitzner.

In recent years, weeklies have folded right along with monthlies. “The viability of print is not a question of whether you’re a weekly or a monthly but whether you’re no longer relevant or serving the needs of your readers or adapting to new roles,” says Karl Elken, vice president and publisher of Ziff Davis’ eWEEK. “For us, one of our cornerstones is not news, those stories are more appropriate on the Web.”

“I think a lot of monthlies have had far more difficulty sustaining their business value than the weeklies have primarily because our efforts editorially have been shifting online,” agrees Paul Calento, vice president of marketing at IDG’s InfoWorld. “We have more staff committed to one brand than other companies have to an entire category. We don’t cover news in the weekly magazine, and that’s distinctly different from the competitive set. We’re a monthly that publishes in a weekly format.”

Calento says that print is driving business online and sets up the sales pitch. “We would not be able to sell online at the prices we do without print,” he adds. “In the case of a weekly, you can provide spot availability literally sometimes less than a week in advance. It’s getting to a point where you might be able to charge more on a CPM base online than in print—at least in key vertical markets.”

However, other observers see the major tech publishers sticking with print weeklies because that’s what they’ve always done. TechTarget, which flipped the traditional model on its head by building online products first, has added three print magazines (CIO Decisions, Information Security and Storage, which recently won 39 awards combined from the Association of Business Publication Editors)—all monthlies. “If you look at [the traditional tech publishers’] folios now, it’s embarrassing,” says CEO Greg Strakosch. “They say [that they now offer monthly analysis in a weekly format] because they’re legacy properties and that’s what their business is built on. People don’t need weekly analysis. We’re seeing double digit growth and we’re not trying to reformat since our publications were built as monthlies.”

Cost Versus Growth
The major print tech weeklies offered split performance through the first six months of 2006. InformationWeek dropped 18 percent in pages while InfoWorld fell 4 percent, according to IMS. Meanwhile, eWeek inched up 2 percent in pages while Computerworld jumped 18.5 percent.
While the cost savings of online have long been touted over print, some publishers claim their products are so integrated it’s hard to separate the questions. “In recent years, our print expenses were more than double our Web site because of printing, postage and paper,” says Matt Duffy, vice president of marketing at IDG weekly Computerworld, which was named the 2006 Magazine of the Year by ASBPE. “However, these high print expenses were still outweighed by the print revenues so we were profitable in both lines, with a higher margin in online. As we move forward, the expense in online will greatly increase but revenue will quickly be at the same level as print while the margins will always be far greater in online.”