'Time,' 'Newsweek' To Be Redesigned


There seems to be a deep-seated belief in the consumer magazine industry that a new look can give a beleaguered publication a new lease on life -- but the evidence suggests that superficial (or even more substantial) redesigns actually have little impact on circulation or ad sales.

That's not stopping Time and Newsweek from trotting out redesigns in the hopes of reversing multi-year declines. Time managing editor Richard Stengel told readers that the magazine has added an "economy page and a photo spread; moved 10 Questions to the back page; and created one large section called "The Culture," which combines the old Life and Arts sections.

This is actually the second redesign under Stengel: the first, in March 2007, repositioned it as a journal of news analysis, opinion and commentary, but failed to avert ad page declines of 6.9% in 2007, 19% in 2008, and 17.4% in 2009. Turning to circulation, between the second half of 2006 and the second half of 2010 total newsstand sales fell 25% to 89,592, while subs fell 11.5% to 3,213,374.



Newsweek is said to be preparing a major redesign under the leadership of new editor Tina Brown, set to debut in March. True, the redesign is partly intended to incorporate content from The Daily Beast Web site, which recently completed its merger with Newsweek after months of fitful negotiations. But some kind of makeover was probably inevitable following the struggling magazine's acquisition by stereo magnate Sidney Harman last year.

Both newsweeklies could use a shot in the arm.

Newsweek ended 2010 with ad pages down 19.8% to 896, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, while total paid subs declined 25.4% to 1,423,666, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Over the same period, Time saw ad pages slip 2.9% to 1,406, as paid subs declined 3.2% to 3,109,161. But as noted, the recent history of magazine redesigns doesn't provide much reason to believe these revamps will produce lasting improvements in terms of readership or advertising.

More recently, in March 2010, Fortune magazine got a major redesign, including new sections, graphics and format, but the venerable business title ended the year with ad pages basically flat with a 1% increase to 1,539, according to the PIB. On the circulation front, Fortune saw paid subs fall 3.5% to 798,690 in the second half of 2010 compared to the second half of 2009, according to the ABC; newsstand sales did increase 9% to 27,608.

Other magazine categories, such as sports and shelter, have tried to redo their images.

In 2002, corporate bosses announced the retirement of Sports Illustrated's longtime editor Bill Colson and a redesign to be led by newcomer Terry McDonell, previously editor in chief of Wenner Media's Us Weekly. In the face of competition from the newly launched ESPN Magazine, McDonell was tasked with making SI younger and hipper, including shorter, more opinionated articles -- and by most accounts, he succeeded. But ABC recorded fairly consistent year-over-year drops in newsstand sales, which fell 59% from an average 119,429 in June 2003 to 49,264 in December 2010.

Martha Stewart Living got a redesign back in March 2009, but the new look availed it little in the midst of a steep economic downturn: Ad pages fell 17.5% in 2009, while on the circ front total paid subs increased 7% to 1,822,233 in the second half of 2009, as newsstand sales tumbled 17.6% to 269,375 per ABC.

4 comments about "'Time,' 'Newsweek' To Be Redesigned".
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  1. Kent Kirschner from MobileBits, February 21, 2011 at 8:51 a.m.

    As I sat for the fifth day of my recently arrived Esquire magazine I stumbled upon one of the MPA house ads that most magazines seem to be printing these days in their pages. This page was elegant and with a simple message that went something like: you surf the web but you swim in magazines. I couldn't help but to nod my head in agreement as I continue on for another twenty minutes with the magazine. Altogether about an hour now so far with one issue.

    The past decade has kept our collective head spinning with options, jargon, new best practices etc. But I can't help but to marvel at the enduring power and presence of great magazines. Advertisers just cannot overlook them in their pursuit of the next big thing. Magazines will always be a big thing: digitally or printed. And so while redesigns, new partnerships, and renovations might not lead to spikes they continue to be part of the cultivation and pruning of strong and relevant media. And for all that doubt their relevance, I challenge you to peruse the research.

  2. James Bishop from B-to-B Digital Media LLC, February 21, 2011 at 8:52 a.m.

    The title suggests that the magazines will be RESIGNED when, in fact, the article explains a REDESIGN.... If it's a ploy to read... I did... If it's an error... It should be revised... Horribly misleading!

  3. Susan Peiffer from Virtual Conent, February 21, 2011 at 9:29 a.m.

    I'm not sure how this happened, but it looks like no one proofed the title on this article. Shouldn't it be "redesigned" instead of "resigned"? At first glance, I thought both publications were ceasing publication.

  4. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, February 21, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.

    The cliche "Re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic" was made for situations such as these.

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