The New York Review of Magazines

Fast Company

By Jeff Dooley

Circulation: 723,230
Date of Birth: 1995
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $4.99

For Fast Company, the premise is simple: We’re the coolest business magazine you’ll ever read.

In fact, calling it a business magazine might not do it justice. It’s an ideas magazine, really, a place to celebrate innovation, a place, as the magazine’s website tagline reads, “Where ideas and people meet.”

Fast Company is a departure from its business mag competition in the same way it encourages its readers to stray from conventional business wisdom. It is loaded with full pages of colorful portrait photography, tightly written profiles and sidebars on leading innovators and eye-catching covers featuring charming young businesspeople (good luck finding any gray hairs on the heads of their cover subjects).

It’s more Wired than it is BusinessWeek. More big ideas than stock quotes. It’s for Don Draper, not Gordon Gekko.

Launched in 1995 by two former Harvard Business Review editors, Alan Webber and Bill Taylor, Fast Company originally had a focus on technology and a target audience of younger entrepreneurs. The same is true today, although lately it has forcused more on sustainability issues (the magazine itself is printed on recycled paper), and it is certainly not above tinkering with the formula during a time in which the business community and our economy are going through significant transitional periods. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the feature article “Switch: Don’t Solve Problems — Copy Success” (excerpted from a book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath) ran in the same issue in which the magazine unveiled a minor redesign and a new front-of-book section called “The Goods” (a celebration of pointless gadgets for the people who love them). With things being what they are right now, Fast Company has adopted a bit of a “we’re all in this together” tone. The magazine reads like one big self-help pep talk to the business world: The rules have changed, companies need to evolve and here are the ideas and people that will show you how.

The editors’ viewpoint is always to look forward and never backward, exemplified by two of its prominent front-of-book sections, “Now” and “Next.” The magazine does feel a little frothy at times; stories like “Can this dude make Microsoft look cool?” and “Ashton Kutcher is taking over the media world. Really” have a way of doing that. But that doesn’t mean it is a lightweight. The writing is consistently good and the magazine has drawn the praise of critics. Last year, Fast Company netted two ASME award nominations. One was in the general excellence category (of magazines with circulations of 500,000 to 1 million), alongside fellow nominees The Economist, GQ, Runner’s World and the eventual winner, Wired. The other was for “China Storms Africa,” a story by Richard Behar, which landed in the reporting category with two GQ stories, a New Yorker piece and the winning entry from The New York Times Magazine. Business mag competitors Fortune and Forbes received zero nominations, while BusinessWeek tied Fast Company with two.

Though critical acclaim doesn’t necessarily lead to steady profit streams for business magazines (see: Condé Nast Portfolio), it does suggest a validation of Fast Company’s premise. Its focus on innovation, flexibility and sustainability isn’t one that only businesspeople can learn from and appreciate — it can appeal to all of us.

After all, who couldn’t use a few more good ideas?

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