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Ownership

Ownership

There was no change in rankings of the top 10 magazine companies in 2005 (the latest year for which data is available), but there was movement within them. Titles are being sold and bought. New launches are being prepared. And much of the new landscape’s look is being determined again by the industry leader, Time Warner, which is selling off some of its magazine holdings and slashing staff at others.

Meanwhile, where the online world is concerned, things are moving slowly in a few different directions. The move to the Web was always likely to be more complicated for news magazines, a medium that was never focused around timeliness the way others, like TV or even newspapers, were. Thus far, they’ve adapted unevenly.

Though Time Warner is still the largest of the large owners, the gap is rapidly closing as the company prunes properties. Time Warner saw its total magazine revenue fall to $4 billion in 2005 billion from $4.8 billion the previous year— a drop of 17%. In part it was due to a miscalculation in 2004 of what segment of the company’s revenue came from magazines — the book division was mistakenly included by Ad Age, which collects and calculates the data.1 2

Meanwhile, Advance Publications, which owns Conde Nast, has become a much bigger No. 2, with net revenues climbing to $3.4 billion from $2.4 billion, an increase of 42%. It is now closing in on Time Warner, in part because it is buying properties and expanding its Web presence.3

The No. 3 company, Hearst, had a quieter year with no big acquisitions or sales. Still, revenues for the company were up about 16% from previous year, climbing to $2.1 billion from $1.8 billion.4

Magazine Revenue of Top Ten Companies, 2005
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Source: Advertising Age, Chart: Top 25 Magazine Companies

Those three companies’ combined revenues dwarf the rest of the top 10 companies combined. But the top two appear to be charting different courses.

Time Inc. spent some of last year fighting off a bid by the investor Carl Icahn to break up the company, and while it remains largely intact, its plan to sell off 18 titles suggests it wants to become smaller and more focused. The publications for sale were targeted niche brands that stand apart from such broader titles as People, Time and Sports Illustrated. Niche publications remain good magazine business, but are not the direction, apparently, in which Time Warner wants to go. And the titles the company is holding on to are cutting staff. In short, this does not look like a company looking to grow, at the moment anyway.

Advance, meanwhile, is still looking to add titles. In July, the company, which owns Wired magazine, bought Wired.com, its online home. For eight years the two platforms for Wired have actually been held by different companies. Advance also is preparing to launch a new high-profile business magazine, Portfolio, in May. That one is a highly anticipated gamble. Advance brought in some big names to join the effort, including David Carey from the New Yorker as publisher and Joanne Lipman from the Wall Street Journal as editor.

News Magazine Owners

Aside from Time, the other news magazines owners did not make any major changes in 2005. As we enter 2007 they are likely waiting to see what happens with Time’s readership gambit. If that falls flat, the magazine and the company may have suffered from the effort.

The Washington Post Company, which owns Newsweek, is having magazine troubles. For the latest year for which there are data, 2005, magazine revenues fell to $345 million, a decline of almost 6% from $366 million in 2004. Newsweek is the primary cause for the rough times. For the Post Company’s limited magazine holdings, a bad year at Newsweek means a bad year for the magazine portfolio. And that is likely to be truer in 2007, because in December 2006 the company sold its technology titles, including Government Computer News, Washington Technology, Government Leader and Defense Systems. Over all, the drop in magazine revenue pushed the Post Company from being the nation’s 15 th largest magazine company to being the 16th.5

But the Post Company has diversified holdings and is expanding in other media. In 2006 it purchased AM and FM radio stations in Washington on which it simulcasts news/talk programming. The stations, like all terrestrial radio, are local, but on the air they aggressively promote the fact that they have global reach over the Internet.

The Post Company is now just ahead of No. 17 Dennis Publishing, which owns The Week and climbed two spots from No. 19. Dennis, which also owns the “lad” titles Maxim and Stuff, saw its revenues climb to $341 million from $316 in 2004, an increase of about 8%. Dennis was helped in particular by the explosive growth of The Week, which saw another good 2005 as its audited circulation (see Audience), ad revenues and subscriber revenue (see Economics) grew. The company has no set target audience number for The Week, according to the magazine’s editor, but sees it growing fairly steadily for the next few years. That could push Dennis even higher in the size rankings.6

Zuckerman Media Properties, owner of U.S. News and World Report, made no moves of note, but saw its revenues increase to $246 million from $236 million in 2004, an increase of 4.2%.7

Online and the Future

Other than Time, which is owned by Time Warner, none of the news magazines we examine are owned by companies that fall within the 10 largest media companies in the U.S. Looking at revenue derived only from magazines and not from other properties, only Time and the New Yorker, owned by Advance, are in the 10 largest magazine companies and therefore part of larger corporate Web strategies.

Those two companies, however, are taking different approaches the Web.

In 2006 Advance launched a Web portal, Brides.com, that combines three of its print magazines into one site. Advance is particularly eager to make its sites into Web destinations. Besides Brides.com, it is interested in the Web portal model for food (with Epicurious.com), travel (with Concierge.com) and fashion (with Style.com). The New Yorker Web site, however, exists outside that strategy. It is treated as a separate holding from the rest of the company’s titles online.

Time Warner, meanwhile, appears more interested in building its Web identity around its various titles — Time, People, Real Simple and Cooking Light — rather than interest areas. All titles have their own Web identities. Even In Style has its own home, with no obvious homepage links the title it was spun off from, People. Time also took a step toward raising the profile of Time.com by renovating and relaunching the site. In the first issue of the new Friday-released print version of the magazine, the new editor, Richard Stengel, told readers in a letter, “The new publication date reflects the way the Internet is affecting pretty much everything about the news business. Today our print magazine and TIME.com are complementary halves of the TIME brand.”8

As Advance and Time Warner build their Web presences, it will be interesting to see whether one strategy emerges as better than another, or if both succeed.

Elsewhere, news magazine owners are proceeding ad hoc, as they have in the past, with much depending on who is overseeing the site or how the editor or publisher feels about investing in the Web. In a time of tight budgets and staff cuts, such an approach means Web sites might more easily become an afterthought. At the same time, those sites are freer of the restrictions that can grow from big corporate Web strategies — restricted to a certain look or certain features because of owners’ demands. The sites can be focused around what their owners believe each individual publication needs.

The pluses and minuses of such an ownership situation can be seen on Newsweek.com. The site does not look like others owned by its corporate parent, the Washington Post Company, and that makes a certain amount of sense: Newsweek is a different kind of publication from the Washington Post or Slate.

Newsweek.com has had some successes, winning some best of the Web Awards from the magazine industry site minonline.com for its online coverage. And the site may soon be adding more features. Mark Whitaker, Editor of Newsweek from 1998 until September 2006, has moved over to Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, where he will oversee new projects for the digital division.

But Newsweek.com is in some ways poorer for that independence. While washingtonpost.com, for instance, has done much to add to the Post’s franchise in recent years — adding video and interactive features— the site for Newsweek without question thinner. It has no video reports (just segments featuring editors) and a lot more white space (see Digital). Meanwhile, Slate looks much more finished, with several podcasts and a lot of new material daily.

What will the Post Company do with the sites? That decision may well be part of Whitaker’s mission. The company is beginning to cross-promote them — a step further than last year — but Newsweek.com is still tethered tightly to msnbc.com.

The Week has seen exceptional audience growth, but its Web presence has so far been something of an afterthought. That may be starting to change. In 2007 The Week plans to do a daily version online of what it does every week in print, a daily summary of accounts from other outlets. But the magazine’s owner, Dennis Publishing, has done little with its other Web sites thus far beyond offering and encyclopedic backlog of photos of the women it has featured in its pages — some of which it seems to mark as Web-only.

Proof that one doesn’t need a big owner to have Web focus and strategy comes from The Economist. While the Economist Group is clearly pursuing a print growth strategy, the Web site, economist.com, is not an afterthought. There is a wealth of free statistical data, notably including country profiles from the magazine’s “Intelligence Unit” that look at various nations’ economic data, political structures and histories as well as forecasts of where they are headed. And last fall the site added new features including daily stories and updates, an economics blog where readers write, and more podcasts, including a five-minute summary of that week’s print Economist.