The New York Review of Magazines » Sruthi Gottipati The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 How Does The Economist Do It? Wed, 12 May 2010 15:01:45 +0000 Sruthi Gottipati By Sruthi Gottipati

On the day of her interview, Radoslava Petrova was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit that fit her slim frame immaculately. A student at Columbia Business School in New York, the 25-year-old was nervous when, last December, recruiters came to her school to select a few students and offer them a shot at an investment banking career, tough job market nonwithstanding. After surviving some brutal interview sessions, she will fly to London this summer to intern at Deutsche Bank. The reason she made the cut — despite competing against about 200 other Ivy Leaguers — lies in her room, sandwiched between a laptop and a packet of cigarettes: a stack of much-thumbed-through copies of The Economist.

“It gave me a thoughtful insight into big-picture world events, and the recruiters really liked that. I could talk intelligently about the crisis and what the future might look like,” says Petrova, one of 1.4 million loyal readers of The Economist worldwide. Her loyalty can be measured in the $127 she doles out for her yearly subscription — and the fact that The Economist is the only publication she’s willing to pay for at a time when news is virtually free.

While American magazines, particularly newsweeklies, combat crashing circulations, bleak advertising sales and major financial losses, The Economist, which is not even American in origin, is the only newsweekly with a rising circulation in the United States, with more than 768,600 readers as of 2009. (The U.K. and U.S. editions of this British-owned publication differ slightly: The British version is generally three or four pages longer, its sections flow in a different order and it sometimes has a different cover.)

With a fan base more devoted than groupies at a Grateful Dead concert, The Economist maintains the highest number of total ad pages of all the weeklies, according to the Pew Research Center — 36 percent more than Time, its closest competitor.

So, what is its secret?

There’s no single answer. Interviews with readers, advertisers, media consultants, members of The Economist’s staff and industry observers, as well as a study of relevant reports, suggest that the magazine’s success can be attributed to a cocktail of four factors: 1. the magazine’s global perspective and systematic international coverage; 2. its style, including a sophisticated voice aimed at a cosmopolitan, affluent readership; 3. its business model, which includes an astronomical (by American standards) subscription price; and 4. snob appeal.

To understand where The Economist is coming from, it helps to look at its history, which began with a Scottish hatmaker’s exasperation with British Corn Laws. James Wilson felt government tariffs on imported grain and crops killed trade, and he wrote a pamphlet about it. But he still wasn’t satisfied and, in 1843, started The Economist. Its mission was to repeal the Corn Laws in particular and promote free trade in general through what it called “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” The Anti-Corn-Law League helped fund the struggling publication, a newspaper at its start. Three years later, the Corn Laws were repealed, but The Economist, a bastion of free trade, continued to publish.

When Wilson’s son-in-law, Walter Bagehot, took over The Economist in 1861, its scope was broadened to include politics outside the cornfield. His name lives on in “The Bagehot Column,” a weekly analysis of politics, but his advocacy of non-interventionism in foreign policy doesn’t. By 1938, half of the magazine’s sales were international.

Today, The Economist is the flagship product of the Economist Group, which also publishes The World In …, an annual forecast compilation; Intelligent Life, a lifestyle quarterly; and CQ-Roll Call and European Voice, trade publications aimed at government officials in the United States and abroad. The Economist Newspaper Limited owns the Economist Group and 50 percent of its shares are held by The Financial Times Limited.

Global Perspective
One school of thought about the popularity of The Economist is that as free-market doctrines have became more accepted over the last 20 to 30 years, readers have come to identify with that take on economics. Perhaps.

But more likely it’s The Economist’s global perspective (both in coverage and tone) that distinguishes it from other newsweeklies and appeals to readers. Unlike the departmentalized Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, the central section of The Economist is organized by continent (see photo below).

Gideon Lichfield, 38, who has reported from three of those continents, just got back to New York from a meeting in London. He spent 12 years as a foreign correspondent for The Economist before becoming the deputy editor of the magazine’s website. Dressed in a brown button-down shirt, charcoal colored jeans and sneakers, he sits easily on his swivel chair and rapidly types e-mails and troubleshoots on the telephone in his 8th-floor office in The Economist’s midtown Manhattan building. A white board on one wall has a schematic drawing of online circulation scribbled in red marker.

“You’re encouraged to rotate,” says Lichfield, who has reported from bureaus in Mexico, Moscow and Israel for The Economist. Originally hired to cover science and technology, within two years he became a foreign correspondent. “Now,” he says, “the foreign bureaus are getting more split up deliberately to get more complete coverage. Because we’re increasing circulation and revenues, we’re able to increase staff abroad.”

The Economist has a far reach not just geographically but also in terms of the range of topics and the depth of the stories. At a time when newspapers, newsmagazines and TV network news departments have been closing foreign bureaus, The Economist’s broad coverage is a vital source of information for U.S. readers who want to keep an eye on the two wars the country is fighting and other international developments.

“It’s made itself indispensable to the reader who’s interested in the world,” says Clive Crook, a columnist with the Financial Times and a senior editor at The Atlantic who worked for 23 years at The Economist (and is a modest shareholder in the company). That quality contributes to The Economist’s tone, which seems perfectly pitched to its affluent, literate audience.

The magazine’s editors and writers assume a certain degree of intelligence in their readers. “I write for someone like myself,” says Lichfield, “curious about the world, well-educated enough to want to know more.”

The magazine’s name conjures up an image of a staid academic poring over supply-and-demand graphs, but this is misleading. If The Economist were a person, she would be a jet-setting foreign correspondent with a nose for political news. She’d be cerebral, but witty. And she’d have a global sensibility, feeling equally comfortable in Buenos Aires, Beijing and Bangalore.

One of the reasons graduate student Petrova is attracted to The Economist, in addition to the information and analysis she picks up from its pages, is its voice. It has a harmonious voice. No bylines accompany stories. Although it is a journal of opinion, individual journalists aren’t showcased. “This gives it the appearance of valuing group research and analysis” more than other publications do, says Amy Schein, editor at business research company Hoover’s.

Its political positions are not only consistent but also pointed, in contrast to the more objective angles pursued by The Economist’s American counterparts. “Opinion is woven into the magazine,” says Crook. This approach is, perhaps, best summed by Norman Macrae, a senior editor at The Economist a few decades back, who Crook says would tell his colleagues, “It’s not a ‘newspaper,’ it’s a ‘viewspaper.’”

Not everyone admires The Economist’s style. Some detractors say that its stories can be simplistic. “You might find it simplistic if you’re an expert in the field,” responds Lichfield, “because the magazine is pitched at a certain level of the general reader,” not the specialist.

Other critics contend that the magazine’s success is a result of promotion and marketing, and not necessarily the quality of its content. Lichfield is unapologetic: “If we’re honest with ourselves, brand counts itself as important,” he says. The branding for the magazine is astute. It uses the same cleverness as the magazine in its advertising campaign. Ads in the past have included such one-liners as “Leader’s digest,” “Weapons of mass deduction,” “Immaculate perception” and “Topical solution.”

Not unconnected to The Economist’s voice and style is its perspective. The January 23rd issue this year featured a cover story about the Obama administration and the consequences of big government, foreseeing little but gloom and doom. One line from the piece reads: “Electorates, as in Massachusetts, eventually revolt; and such expressions of voters’ fury are likely to shape politics in the years to come.” Sound apocalyptic? The Economist accurately predicted the burst of the housing bubble seven years ago.

Business Model
When people look at business models they consider a company’s allocation of resources. One of the main reasons for the magazine’s success in providing analytical stories is a priceless resource that reporters are offered: time. “We’ve got time to think, to read, to talk to people,” says Lichfield. Reporters don’t feel pressure to file every week. They are given as much as three weeks to file a piece that may occupy three pages in the magazine, up to five weeks to write 12-to-14-page reports or inserts.

To offset the costs of giving reporters more time for their stories, The Economist keeps tight controls on other editorial expenditures. A small U.S. staff — about a dozen reporters — is scattered throughout New York, Washington, Chicago and the West Coast, and the size of the foreign bureaus is modest. “They take care of you,” says Lichfield, but a correspondent’s office can often be “a spare room.”

Luck has played a part in The Economist’s circulation gains. Like other business-oriented publications during this recession, it has drawn readers because of its economic coverage. And, as a weekly, it has been able to stay on top of the news and still offer depth in its coverage of the global economy during the meltdown.

Finally, a crucial factor that contributes to The Economist’s success is the niche it occupies — the appeal of its readership to advertisers. It maintains a hefty $127 annual subscription price, while Time and Newsweek offer steep subscription discounts. “[The price] tells advertisers that readers value it. They feel they’re reaching wealthy consumers,” says Lucia Moses, senior editor at MediaWeek. Strategically, The Economist has steered clear of anything that might cheapen the product. “We’ve never given away toasters or alarm clocks with subscriptions,” says Lichfield.

The magazine’s substantial page count also allows it to charge more. It had 106 pages in its April 17th issue. That same week Time had 76 pages and Newsweek 56.

The Economist is more niche,” says Moses. “Other newsweeklies struggled because they’re being all things to all people. Stock in trade is now available online, whereas economic analysis isn’t.”

Crook laughs at the word “niche.” “How much is the circulation?” he asks. “That’s a hell of a niche, isn’t it?” he says, adding that quite a few magazines “will kill to get a niche like that.”

Other newsweeklies are trying hard to emulate The Economist’s success by using its formula. Each in its own way, the big three — Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report — are trimming their circulation to reduce costs and target more of a niche audience in hopes of demanding better rates from advertisers, according to a Pew report.

Snob Appeal
Finally, there is the matter of The Economist’s snob appeal. Its price, its tone calculated to flatter its readers, its claim to cover the world, its overall intelligence — its English accent, as it were — all these things contribute to its special appeal. This has not gone unnoticed by its ad agency, which has used slogans such as “makes white collars brighter.”

“Much has been said of the title’s snob appeal, which places it a rung above chief competitors Time and Newsweek in terms of giving the impression that it has a more sophisticated readership,” says Amy Schein, adding that the magazine’s London headquarters further heightens its global cachet.

You could say that The Economist has astutely built an aspirational quality into its brand. It worked its magic for Radoslava Petrova. When she leaves for London this summer, she’ll be carrying a copy of her favorite magazine along with her business suits.

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A Decade in Magazines Wed, 12 May 2010 04:01:17 +0000 Sruthi Gottipati By Sruthi Gottipati

Historic mergers, iconic covers and the death of much-loved magazines have made the past decade a defining one in the magazine industry. Dip into nostalgia as NYRM chronicles some of the memorable moments over the last 10 years that have shaped the magazine world.

January: Web and print marry: America Online and Time Warner are united in a deal valued at $350 billion, making history as the largest merger in American business. Today, the combined values of the companies, which have been separated, is about one-ninth of their worth on the day of the merger.

April: Much publicity surrounds the arrival of the debut issue of O, Oprah Winfrey’s new magazine.

March: George, the buzzy title co-founded by J.F.K. Jr. (“Not Just Politics as Usual”) is shuttered.

March: Reporter Bethany McLean breaks the story of the Enron scandal in Fortune.

May: Rosie O’Donnell launches Rosie as a competitor to O. Although it has a strong start, editorial conflicts between O’Donnell and the publisher ensue, and Rosie folds in 2002.

September: Right after the 9/11 attacks, The New Yorker runs an iconic cover by Art Spiegelman. The ghostly black-on-black image of the twin towers receives wide acclaim.

January: Talk, former New Yorker editor Tina Brown’s magazine, folds less than three years after its highly publicized launch.

March: The Reader’s Digest Association buys Reiman Publications, which publishes magazines such as Country and Taste of Home, for $760 million.

February: Condé Nast chases after a younger audience, publishing the first issue of Teen Vogue. It’s the latest addition to a growing number of magazines (Teen People, Elle Girl and CosmoGIRL) targeted at teenagers.

May: The Dixie Chicks pose nude (discreetly) on the cover of Entertainment Weekly with slogans such as “Boycott,” “Proud Americans” and “Peace” on their bodies. Their anti-war stand arouses widespread controversy.

May: Wal-Mart pulls FHM, Stuff and Maxim from its shelves because of their racy photos.

August: Penthouse files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

July: The magazine industry is shocked by the death of Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes Russia, who was shot outside the magazine’s Moscow office.

October: Condé Nast, publisher of Teen Vogue, buys YM from Gruner & Jahr for $25 million and dismantles the brand.

October: For the first time in the magazine’s history, The New Yorker endorses a presidential candidate. The lucky man? John Kerry.

March: After five months in jail, Martha Stewart is released amid great publicity and with a new body — thanks to a composite photo on Newsweek’s cover that embarrasses the editors and causes policy changes.

April: After nearly 150 years in Boston, The Atlantic announces it will be moving to Washington, D.C. Most of the writers and editors choose to leave the magazine rather than move with it.

June: Under threat of fines and jail time for one of its reporters, Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief, Norman Pearlstine, agrees to obey a court order requiring that the magazine turn over subpoenaed documents to a federal grand jury investigating who leaked the identity of C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame.

July: The identity of the Watergate scandal’s “Deep Throat” is revealed in a Vanity Fair exclusive called “I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat.”

September: Condé Nast keeps the Vogue spinoffs coming with Men’s Vogue, a quarterly targeting 35-year-old men earning over $100,000 a year. It is now a twice-yearly supplement to Vogue.

February: Feeling the need to add yet another entry to the celebrity-saturated magazine market, Rupert Murdoch launches Page Six, The Magazine.

March: The Atlantic names New York Times reporter James Bennet as its new editor. The position had been vacant since Michael Kelly resigned to write a book in 2002 and was subsequently killed while on assignment in Iraq.

December: Time’s Person of the Year is you, “for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game.”

April: Life folds — for the third time. Time Inc. promises to keep the brand alive online.

May: Seventeen offers teen girls access to its content on cell phones (since Seventeen updates are so crucial). Now there’s even a free iPhone application for it.

May: Adam Moss’ New York magazine takes home five National Magazine Awards. In a jab at The New Yorker (which, for the first time in years, came up empty-handed), former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker dubs Moss “the new David Remnick.”

July: Condé Nast ends Jane magazine’s 10-year run, prompting the mag’s founder and namesake, Jane Pratt, to attack her former company.

September: Oprah Winfrey throws her — and O magazine’s — weight behind presidential candidate Barack Obama, with a fundraiser that rakes in $3 million for his campaign.

April: The Atlantic puts Britney Spears on its cover, causing a stir among its current readers but, apparently, not attracting many new ones — the issue sold about 24,000 newsstand copies, some 21,000 fewer than in March and nearly 30,000 fewer than in January/February.

July: Italian Vogue features all black models, a first for the fashion world. Editor Franca Sozzani says Barack Obama was a source of inspiration for the issue.

August: Rolling Stone switches to a smaller, more rack-friendly size after three decades in a larger-than-life format.

March: New York magazine goes for a bold and daring cover with Bernie Madoff cast as the Joker. The resemblance is uncanny.

October: Food lovers get a bitter serving — Condé Nast announces that it is canceling Gourmet after 70 years of publication.

October: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of the global financial data and news company Bloomberg L.P., adds BusinessWeek to his media empire.

April: The Apple iPad launches. Could this save the magazine industry?

April: Glamour beats out The Atlantic and New York to be named the first-ever Magazine of the Year at the National Magazine Awards. This new “Ellie” is handed out based on both print and digital excellence.

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The Caravan Sun, 09 May 2010 20:01:15 +0000 Sruthi Gottipati The Caravan]]> By Sruthi Gottipati

Circulation: 20,000
Date of Birth: 2010
Frequency: Monthly
Price: 40 Indian rupees (Less than a dollar)

The Caravan flaunts what magazines do best — exquisitely worded narrative features that draw readers in and can keep them engaged over a cup of tea. While magazines around the world shutter, or grapple with the recession and the Internet, this brave crusader was launched this year in Delhi, India, challenging the notion that print is dead. It’s no mean feat. For readers accustomed to spoon-fed bite-sized morsels of information, long-form journals such as The Caravan could appear indigestible. But therein lies the craft of the magazine — it’s punctuated with humor and fashions a style of writing as elegant as its 9.5-point Mercury font.

Focused on politics and culture, this monthly publication also offers nips of fiction, poetry and travelogues. The magazine’s richness and texture come, too, from its ability to contextualize current affairs. The reportage is as sharp and insightful as the commentary and reviews that dominate the magazine. This February’s issue, for example, featured a compelling story on Delhi’s trash pickers, who are being left behind in the city’s race to modernize before the Commonwealth games. These poverty-ridden informal-sector workers, who go door-to-door collecting people’s garbage for free in order to resell the recyclable material, are now being elbowed out by the private sector, to which the government is outsourcing the task.

The Caravan also has surprisingly good photo essays, such as a stark portrait of villagers devastated by mining in the impoverished Indian state of Jharkhand in the January issue and the chaos in Congo captured in the February one.

The unique selling point of this magazine could be its distinctly international flavor, peppered with globe-trotting contributing editors. The first couple of sections feature on-ground reports that illuminate oft-ignored global stories, as well as quirky tidbits of news from foreign shores. The Caravan thereby appeals to the cosmopolitan reader based in Manhattan as much as the Indian attending a literary festival in Jaipur. And although The Caravan is currently not available on newsstands outside of India and Nepal, the publishers plan to distribute issues in some American and European cities in the future. For now, readers have to be content with postal subscriptions and online access to the magazine.

Some of the cultural features of The Caravan lack the punch of the political pieces. A story about a trip to Khandwa in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was particularly self-indulgent. Most fiction in Indian magazines is cringe-worthy and The Caravan kept that tradition alive in its February issue, with a cheesy excerpted story from an Urdu spy novel. Perhaps some nuance was lost in translation. Other quibbles? The liberal use of parentheses is mildly annoying — 18 of them in a 1,423 word article, for instance — as is the occasional typo.

The history of The Caravan runs parallel to the country in which it was birthed. The magazine was first launched during India’s pre-Independence struggle. In the ’80s, however, it was christened Alive, a general-interest magazine that continues to circulate today. The Caravan was then reborn phoenix-like this January with a narrative style reminiscent of The New Yorker. Published by the Delhi Press, The Caravan is a departure from the 30-odd mostly lowbrow magazines that are printed by the same publisher. Aimed at India’s burgeoning intellectual class, it also appeals to tech-savvy readers. It has a new website that includes a quality digital edition mimicking the print version, which viewers can leisurely flip through. (There’s an accompanying “swish” sound for added effect.)

In essence, The Caravan remains true to its name. It chugs along slowly, soaking in the political and cultural landscape. And it offers an insightful journey into the world in which we live.

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Mediaweek Publishes Annual Hot List Wed, 21 Apr 2010 12:36:51 +0000 Sruthi Gottipati People magazine was announced as the winner of Mediaweek's 2010 "Magazine Hot List."]]> By Sruthi Gottipati

Mediaweek recently published the “Magazine Hot List” for 2010. Since the year was particularly bleak for magazines, Mediaweek has included new evaluation parameters, such as initiatives taken by publications to expand beyond their core print business. The winner? People magazine.

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Links for Magazine Lovers Fri, 12 Mar 2010 05:24:52 +0000 Sruthi Gottipati By Sruthi Gottipati

A few must-watch videos for magazine lovers:

The Magazine Publishers of America and the American Society of Magazine Editors depict the last decade in magazine covers.

The heads of five major magazine companies — Charles H. Townsend, Condé Nast; Cathie Black, Hearst Magazines; Jack Griffin, Meredith Corporation; Ann Moore, Time Inc.; and Jann Wenner, Wenner Media — launched this new advertising campaign to promote magazines.

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