"News you can use" is no more. In case you haven't heard, U.S. News & World Report, the former weekly magazine that rode this tagline into media departments with flair and confidence after Mort Zuckerman purchased it in 1984, has suspended its magazine business except for a few planned one-offs throughout the year. The company will rely solely on its Web site to drive revenue moving forward.
Its press release read like a suicide note.
Even when pages were not included in a buy, the U.S. News print platform gave the brand a unique and credible point of differentiation when up against Web-only properties. Now they are going head to head with sites that do online better than they do. It would be like a diner, located next door to a Five Guys, changing its menu to burgers only.
The number of U.S. News readers who follow this brand online once they stop getting the magazine, will be vastly smaller than the number the brand will abandon -- so overall audience will take a huge hit. But the hardest hit will be the brand's perceived value. It will become less relevant to consumers and less significant in an online ad market great at drowning brand value in exchange for cheaper prices.
Someone once shared with me an interesting and provocative perspective on the print advertising business. He is the former president of The Onion. At The Onion, he knew his advertising profits came from his brand's Web site. He also knew he was losing money publishing a free paper distributed in multiple markets. So why did he stay in the print business? Easy. Publishing his brand in print became a marketing expense to help increase the brand's awareness, credibility, and value.
The print platform of a content brand not only drives incremental traffic and subsequent page views to the brand's Web site (and related digital assets), it helps support higher CPMs online. Removing this platform, and decreasing the overall number of advertising sales calls made on behalf of the brand, is an irrevocable mistake by U.S. News -- signaling an end, not a new beginning.
There is a restaurant in my neighborhood that I used to order business lunches from three to four times a week. Once or twice a week, I would also order myself dinner. Needless to say, I was a very good customer. Two months ago, the restaurant stopped opening for lunch.
I have not ordered dinner from them since.
Consumer appetites are fickle. Once you stop serving your brand the way they are used to consuming it, they pick something else off the menu.
U.S. News strategists will find this out as they starve this once-proud brand into obscurity.