One of the interesting things about the last several years in magazine media is that no one really seems to know how to accurately read the trends. We see the data about declines in ad pages, declines in folio sizes, declines in newsstand sales, declines in frequencies. We read about unrelenting layoffs and downsizings. There’s a pretty clear contextual narrative. But something else also happens on a regular basis. Media brands—sometimes print magazines—share stories of success, seemingly in the face of that clear contextual narrative.
One of those brands is The Week, the 16-year-old weekly news magazine that’s barely changed since the late Felix Dennis launched it in 2001. Even if you haven’t seen The Week in a few years, you recognize the style of the covers, the cheeky headlines, the interior architecture and the inclusive nature of the curation. The Week might be a distillation of the news, a compendium with no real original reporting, but it’s also a smart, well edited, light, bright and tight read—and it’s thriving.
“It’s designed to be concise for time-pressed people,” says vice president of publishing John Guehl, who shared some of the brand’s wins—as well as the strategies behind those wins— at a recent meeting. “There is a finishability to it.”
Unlike all the other media brands operating in The Week’s category, including The Economist, The New Yorker, Time, Businessweek and others, only The Week is a pure summary. It gives you a quick perspective on what all of those brands as well as many others are thinking about current events. Stories are mostly no longer than a few hundred words, and it’s all wrapped into a small folio of no more than 44 pages and no more than 10 ads per issue.
What’s somewhat subversive is that you can glean a worldview from its stories. You don’t just get an information dump, you also get how smart people are thinking about events—so if you’re at a cocktail party, you can impart opinion as well as fact.
Whatever it is, it’s working. This space has a lot of success stories. The Economist is one of the smartest marketing organizations in media, and its editorial content always is engaging and thought-provoking. The New Yorker and The Atlantic are as good as it gets, anywhere. Time Magazine enjoyed a very strong year editorially in the last 12 months. But The Week has notched some impressive wins. According to Guehl:
- Print revenue for the first half of 2017 is up by 12 percent.
- Overall brand revenue for the first half is up by five percent.
- Advertising has grown by double digits this year, even as the category, according to Guehl, has declined by 17 percent.
- Circulation is 573,684, significantly more than its ratebase promise, and comes at a time when some competitors have seen major declines.
- What’s more, the circulation is 100 percent paid, unlike magazine brands that increasingly mix in verified and other forms of non-paid circulation.
And the subscription price is robust: Anywhere from $59 to $79 or thereabouts, or 25 issues for $1.19 per issue. “The loyalty of the audience has always been a key,” Guehl says. “We’re not trying to have an artificial ratebase. That’s one of the things that stands out in 2017.”
Adds The Week’s executive vice president of consumer marketing and products, Sara O’Connor, “I think with The Week it comes back to the product. We have something that people need—there’s a benefit there. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of content and news, and The Week provides something for smart busy people.”
Guehl notes that The Week has been very successful with advertising, pointing out that brands like Breitling, American Express Platinum, Dell, and Morgan Stanley have come into the print magazine this year, and Charles Schwab, Showtime, Liberty Mutual, and NBC News have come into the digital side. And full-issue takeovers were sold to Emirates and Morgan Stanley. “Print is the only medium where people are not actively trying to avoid ads,” Guehl says. “There are still advertisers that want to tap into that.”
They may also want to tap into the subscriber’s resources. Guehl says The Week’s reader is in his or her mid 40s (the brand skews male by 60/40), lives in a major city and has an average household income of $160,000.
In the end, both O’Connor and Guehl say, The Week has a formula that readers find valuable, and it sticks to that formula. “We’re not trying to chase the next shiny thing,” Guehl says. “Our strength is our consistency.”
“We’re this safe space where readers can come and get everything they need to know, and we make sense of everything that’s going on,” O’Connor adds.