How Is It That The Economist Is Not Only Surviving, But Thriving?

- - Magazines

The Atlantic has an excellent story (here) on retooling the newsweeklies to compete in the internet economy.

In the digital age, with its overabundance of information, the modern newsweekly is in a particularly poignant position. Designed nearly a century ago to be all things to all people, it Chaplin-esquely tries to straddle thousands of rapidly fragmenting micro-niches, a mainframe in an iTouch world. The audience it was created to serve—middlebrow; curious, but not too curious; engaged, but only to a point—no longer exists. Newsweeklies were intended to be counterprogramming to newspapers, back when we were drowning in newsprint and needed a digest to redact that vast inflow of dead-tree objectivity. Now, in response to accelerating news cycles, the newspapers have effectively become newsweekly-style digests themselves, resorting to muddy “news analysis” now that the actual news has hit us on multiple platforms before we even open our front door in the morning.

Bottom line here is that advertising used to be sold on a “hits” basis, but now that hits are practically worthless (blame the ease at which juvenile humor, celebrities drinking starbucks and vitriol can produce millions of hits) it’s engagement and finding or slashing circulation down to an audience that is passionate about the product you produce. This also means they can start discarding all the junk they put in the magazines that caters to a more general interest crowd. Sounds good to me.

There Are 17 Comments On This Article.

  1. If the Economist is doing so well one must ask how important is photography for newsweeklies in today’s market as pictures play such a small role in the layout of the magazine? (they do have great online slideshows).

    The Economist is the only news magazine my friends (who are all in there mid twenties, yes young people do read these mags) have subscriptions to. I have ask them “why the Economist” and its always the same answer, they want a smart clear analysis of the big issues that are happening right now, not the lifestyle modern living crap that fills most of the other newsweeklies. I think the other newsweeklies have a lot to learn from the Economist.

    • @joe,
      The beauty of going away from general interest to smaller magazines is that there can be more of them that cater to different audiences. Since the Economist doesn’t do much with photography there’s room for a magazine like it that does.

  2. I think Joe’s friends are exactly right with

    “they want a smart clear analysis of the big issues that are happening right now, not the lifestyle modern living crap that fills most of the other newsweeklies”

    I am only interested in the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. I don’t have any investments except a 401K and am not really interested in the Wall Street gossip. But I AM interested in in-depth reporting and these two seem to go there, and most of the time keeping their opinions out of the story (which can’t be said for the other weekly mags).

    Hell, I think someone reported Newsweek has published 37 covers or something like that of President OBama. Is there any DOUBT what their opinions are? Certainly there is other news (and news photographs) that warrant attention.

    My only wish is that the Wall Street Journal and Economist provide as much photography as the others.

  3. I would argue that the economist has a strong viewpoint. In it’s case that viewpoint mostly comes from the writing but there’s no reason why at another magazine that shouldn’t be the case with photography. (not too many how qualify at the moment though)

  4. I’m 26, cinematography and photo assistant and subscribe to the Economist (and the Journal) Not too many other people in Bed-Stuy have the Journal waiting outside for them but if I don’t snag it by 8AM it’s gonzo, a hot commodity anywhere.

    The Economist is so good because it’s not published by Americans. (I said it!) Just as some of the best American historians have been British, so is the best world wide reporting, US included. Their coverage of Central Asia and Africa is unparalleled and is worth the subscription alone. There is an unmade documentary on every page.

    Information is the game. Photographers who are pushing the envelope of information gathering will be around for the next publishing revolution, when consumers pay for content again.

  5. How often have you pick up a copy of TIME or NEWSWEEK and found nothing that interests you? I found with TIME that I would enjoy 1 out of 3 issues with NEWSWEEK it was more like 1 out of 5 but yet I have never had a issue of the Economist that I didn’t find some thing interesting to read that I enjoyed, why is that ? Is it just me or is this a pattern for all newsweeklies.

    Don’t get me wrong I love the photography used in these magazines but that alone doesn’t seem like enough to buy them over the Economist. Look at the new look NEWSWEEK its just the same old shit, can some one please give me an Economist with a few photo essays please.

  6. I’ve subscribed to the Economist for years and it seems like they have really stepped up their game in the past couple of years.

    They call themselves a “newspaper”, I believe and it shows. In addition to the analytical big-picture pieces in each edition, there are also quite a few very timely pieces. It’s not uncommon for me to receive a print edition (in California) that refers to events that happened only 24-48 hours before.

  7. ah, the Economist is the best.
    only started subbing just over 2 years ago and avidly read it. It’s supremely well written, measured and insightful. It does sod all with photos, quite often has rubbish covers but it fairness the photo captions are wickedly funny.
    At a guess the reason it’s doing well as since the rising tide has long since receded, a lot of people seem to need to get their heads round stuff they barely have a grasp on especially since we’ve covered some significant unchartered financial ground in the past 12 months.

    The best reason to read it is because of it’s analytical approach to global positions from a reasonably non-partisan position. Decent thoughtful analysis is what’s missing from new media as opposed to reactionary, inflammatory personal remarks that eschew responsibility.

    Seems to be strutting amongst a cowering market.

  8. how can we trust the Economist if they never predicted the actual recession and if they still rank american economy as AAA ?

    we can certainly agree as a magazine is very well done but the information they provide is mostly made of pro-western propaganda, lies, and a big pile of BS, especially in their asian reportages about china and russia.

    • Donnar Party

      @Sergey, The Economist predicted the trouble for the US and the UK in 2006 in a series of articles on over priced realestate. Remember? Oh, I guess you were busy reading some Interfax story ghost written by an Ingush warlord. And the American economy is AAA, when you look at its underlying structure. Ok, really AA.

      Pro-Western? Yes. Propoganda, not really, but the Economist is very, very conservative in a JM Keynes sort of way.

  9. The Economist has a great team of people who are effectively put in a position to successfully do their jobs.

    I think it does help that it’s published outside the “American mentality,” in that it is not really a lowest-common-denominator publication.

    While so many others are chasing readers with whatever they can, The Economist strives to put out the best caliber work, and has demonstrated that by making a quality product, the market will accept it.

    There are some here in the states that are still carrying the flag high, but much of the best is coming from Europe these days.

    Sit down and watch BBC World News and then flip over to CNN or MSNBC. It’s a night-and-day difference. The same can be said of TIME and The Economist.

    It’s all about the quality.

    • Sergey Molotov

      @Will Seberger,

      BBC News and the british press in general (apart The Telegraph) are targeting Joe Sixpack as well.

      Quality coverage usually can be find in russian, german, and french publications.

  10. I’m getting sold on The Economist all of a sudden – I’ll have to pick that up today…

    Rob, one of the things you said got me wondering: if hits are about as valuable as the latest episode of “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Outta Here” for online advertising quantitative/qualitative, what replaces that marker?

  11. What I get from this interview, as well as other observations:

    – The Economist is very high in quality, and provides a perceived value.
    It’s survival may also be based partially on (unforeseen) fortuity.
    The Economist may also be successful based on ability to still stand in the current weather, while competition falls.

    – As this thread applies to the business of photography.
    The middle class of photography is very unhealthy (dying).
    The lower class of photography may be healthy (crowdsourcing) but the ROI may not be there. There will be a very elite group of (financially) successful photographers, just as in sports and entertainment. The general trend is a race to the bottom, this is not just occurring in the photography industry:
    The Internet Devalues Everything It Touches

    Right now there are millions of “documentary” photographers pouring billions of dollars into their new digital hobbies, providing their image products @ below the cost of production. The people making money in this business are vendors to enthusiasts – including those enthusiasts who fancy themselves as professionals.

  12. isn’t it the Economist that doesn’t give credit to any of its photos or writers? This drives me nuts, I mean where is the true credibility? After I read or in the middle of reading I would like to know who wrote it and as a photographer wtf is up with having no credit for the photos that they use? For me the Economist looses all credibility when I can’t trace where anything is coming from.


    • Donnar Party

      @CH, I know, you have to dig to find this info, but this is a quirk of a quirky magazine from a quirky country.

  13. Donnar Party

    I’ve been reading the Economist since I can remember reading. My mother is an economist, a World Bank/IMF type. We had two subscriptions, one for home and one to mom’s office. One issue is like a 12 hour version of The News Hour. It is a conservative magazine, in a European sort of conservatism that values free markets but thinks JM Keynes was OK. In the American political spectrum the Economist is Center Left, maybe a little right of Obama. It doesn’t need photos, although more couldn’t hurt. I still have a subscription.

    I read Stern, Spiegel, Juane Afrique, and Paris Match when I want pictures to go along with my news.