Mort Zuckerman’s Brilliant Fade to Black
A longtime print subscriber salutes U.S. News & World Report's jump to online.
Right about now, you should be getting your last printed copy of U.S. News & World Report.
Sad, isn’t it? I grew up a fan of the old weekly. I was reading "Washington Whispers" while most of my high school friends were flipping through ratty comic books or talking about MTV.
I looked down a bit on Newsweek and Time as hopelessly sleepy, middle-of-the-road books. Reading USN&WR was like belonging to a club. An annoying, smarty-pants club. The closest thing to it, probably, was The Economist, and I wouldn’t geek out that much for another few years.
I won’t miss it.
Why? Well, because, frankly, I don’t miss it now. I haven’t subscribed in years. I am part of the problem: They had me young (the marketer’s dream) and now I’m in the thick of my earning years. Yet you won’t find U.S. News in my house. I read a few mags here and there, but not one "newsweekly."
It’s simple really. If TV has become a form of Internet for the disconnected, then newsweeklies are even further behind the curve. I can’t read newspapers and print anymore. I read way, way too much online, all the time. Nearly anything and everything you care to print and mail to me, I have already seen, absorbed, and likely forgotten.
Which is why I was secretly thrilled to read that my favorite old book had bit the bullet and gone online for good. Owner and Editor-in-Chief Mort Zuckerman, who also owns the New York Daily News, has been on this course for a while, yes, but it suddenly made sense last month to stop chasing the print deadline.
See, I ran a magazine for a few years. One thing that bugged me then was putting together the annual edit calendar, the list of big stories we would publish.
Not that I minded thinking ahead. And I understood why the sales side would want time to go out and beat the bushes for upcoming issues on travel, banking, or whatever. More power to them. Without sales, you are sunk.
No, what bugged me was putting out 12 issues a year when six, maybe seven were winners. Our sales team knew when the ad budgets would get approved for the year. They knew when to strike. They knew exactly which issues were losers no matter what we said in the pages. The remainder was dead time for them. No budgets, no ad deals. Instead, they sold events, online, anything but print.
U.S. News had already fallen back from weekly to monthly. Now it’s going to eight issues a year. It will be mostly the list issues they know will sell, "best colleges," "best hospitals," and so on.
It feels like a retreat to the writers and editors, I am sure, but eight great newsstand hits a year can pay for a lot of amazing web content. It’s a perfect combination of custom-publishing common sense ("get the budget, then make the book") and web opportunism, that is, using all those rankings and lists to build a new, powerful online business.
More power to them.
Greg Brown owns Interactive Content Partners, a provider of custom publishing services and private label content. In a previous life, he wrote stuff about people and things for money. Not much has changed.