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Tina Brown’s Newsweek takes the all-digital plunge

The Guardian may or may be going all-digital but Newsweek is.

Famous old news weekly Newsweek was sold to Sydney Harman by the Washington Post four years ago and merged with Tina Brown’s Daily Beast online news and comment site two years later.

The Beasties struggled manfully to make a go of it but have finally thrown in the towel on the print version, citing dire advertising returns.

Here’s what they say:

Newsweek will transition to an all-digital format in early 2013. As part of this transition, the last print edition in the United States will be our Dec. 31 issue.

Meanwhile, Newsweek will expand its rapidly growing tablet and online presence, as well as its successful global partnerships and events business.

Newsweek Global, as the all-digital publication will be named, will be a single, worldwide edition targeted for a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context. Newsweek Global will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web, with select content available on The Daily Beast.

Four years ago we launched The Daily Beast. Two years later, we merged our business with the iconic Newsweek magazine—which The Washington Post Company had sold to Dr. Sidney Harman. Since the merger, both The Daily Beast and Newsweek have continued to post and publish distinctive journalism and have demonstrated explosive online growth in the process. The Daily Beast now attracts more than 15 million unique visitors a month, a 70 percent increase in the past year alone – a healthy portion of this traffic generated each week by Newsweek’s strong original journalism.

At the same time, our business has been increasingly affected by the challenging print advertising environment, while Newsweek’s online and e-reader content has built a rapidly growing audience through the Apple, Kindle, Zinio and Nook stores as well as on The Daily Beast. Tablet-use has grown rapidly among our readers and with it the opportunity to sustain editorial excellence through swift, easy digital distribution – a superb global platform for our award-winning journalism. By year’s end, tablet users in the United States alone are expected to exceed 70 million, up from 13 million just two years ago.

Currently, 39 per cent of Americans say they get their news from an online source, according to a Pew Research Center study released last month. In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format. This was not the case just two years ago. It will increasingly be the case in the years ahead.

It is important that we underscore what this digital transition means and, as importantly, what it does not. We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it. We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism – that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.

No doubt this will be noted at the Guardian as well as elsewhere in the struggling print world. On the Guardian issue my friend Arif Durrani takes issue with our ‘all-digital’ thesis in Brand Republic, suggesting that the Guardian is more likely to can its weekday editions first (if at all).

We actually suggested this here ourselves back in August 2011 but friends who know far more about national newspaper printing arrangements and costs say such a move would be hopelessly uneconomic, therefore it’s digital or bust.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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