The Week: A High-Brow Mag Edited for a Short Attention Span World

Does a magazine that is read by a legal team every week before it goes out, that sells at a $75 subscription rate, and that promises only 20 percent original reporting stand a chance at success?

Apparently so. The Week, published by Dennis Publishing, has displayed remarkable growth in its short life. The title has just announced that its rate base will rise to 330,000 as of January 2005, more than tripling where it stood upon launch in May 2001 - at 100,000.

Yet there is no doubt that the concept behind the magazine -- i.e.: its unique editorial makeup and business model -- require some explanation.

A typical issue covers, well, everything, in small doses: art, books, movies, even some sports. But at its core it is the magazine's unique coverage of the news, and its coverage of the coverage of the news.

The Week meshes together stories by summarizing and quoting liberally from varied news accounts, editorials, and columnists, always with an eye toward showing all sides (hence the legal scrutiny). That means both sides politically and geographically, as The Week typically runs a smattering of international columns on issues that affect the United States.



It's a highbrow news magazine edited for a short attention span world.

"The Week is at the high end of the American newsweekly marketplace," said general manager Justin Smith, who added that the magazine is more sophisticated, intelligent, and global than any other book on the market.

"We've actually benefited from the editorial direction of Time, Newsweek and US News as they have gone more lifestyle [orientated]."

His claim is that The Week is packaged for that CEO-type who is so busy they cannot read nearly all that they want to. "Our value proposition is, here's how you can get really smart really quickly," he said.

He recognizes that The Week probably does not serve as anyone's primary news source, but rather likens it to Sunday morning talk shows. "Our core editorial innovation is multiple perspectives in an incredibly digestible way," he said. "There is not a single magazine that can claim that."

While the magazine's growth has been exponential, it has taken Madison Avenue time to figure it out.

"I think people are gradually warming up to it," said George Janson, managing partner and director of print for Mediaedge:cia. "There were big questions when they launched in this country. People said: 'Just what the world needs, another news magazine.'"

The Week of course is a U.K. import, following in the footsteps of Dennis Publishing's Maxim. The no-newsstand, high subscription price model, and the snippet editorial style was considered a risk in the U.S. market.

"Actually, their premise is pretty different," said Janson. "Once people read it, some get it, some don't. It's almost like a new genre."

"It's taken us three years to do what we have done in the U.K. in nine," adds Smith. "Renewal rates have been off the charts."

Smith, who previously worked at The Economist, sees his former employer as his primary competition, and feels quite confident. "We've compressed what The Economist has done in 25 years [growth-wise] in less than five."

Janson said he has been impressed with The Week's growth, but added, "They still need to make some headway on the advertising side."

Smith sees that happening, as he promises an upcoming PIB report, which will reveal that pages are up 20 to 25 percent in 2004, in the neighborhood of 520 total pages. Luxury cars like Porsche and Jaguar are core advertisers, with categories like financial services and corporate branding showing strength.

So how has The Week, which sells 99.6 percent of its copies through subscriptions, pulled off such growth?

Smith said that word of mouth has been outstanding, and that reader gifts and basic subscriber card inserts have fed circulation. That, along with some smart traditional direct marketing, "with zero premiums," he emphasized.

The Week has also raised its profile through some upscale event marketing, including organizing a series of debate series and panels, such as the recent "The Art of the Turnaround," at the Four Seasons in New York. Panelists included Millard Drexler, CEO of J. Crew and former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt, who is now senior advisor at the Carlyle Group.

Also, three years ago the company began a potent relationship with the prestigious Conference Board, which includes members such as Goldman Sachs and IBM, and publishes economic indicator reports such as the "Consumer Confidence" report. Its 25,000 members receive a discounted subscription to The Week.

Not everyone is sold on the magazine's reason for being. Mike Neiss, executive vice president of media at Lowe Worldwide, called the magazine "a Cliff's notes version of the news of the day," and wondered openly whether such supposedly important people should be reading it.

Neiss also expressed doubts over the strength of the magazine's growth figures: "There is a lot of hamburger helper in that circulation," he said, adding that he had yet to be convinced of the magazine's impact on readers. "They are talking to East of the Hudson. I have never seen a private citizen read this thing."

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