Newsweek for a dollar – bargain or a case of vanity publishing?

It’s probably a bit of both for 91-year old hi-fi tycoon Sidney Harman, the new owner, and just as much for his 65-year old wife US Democrat congresswoman Jane.

The $1 Harman has paid the Washington Post for the struggling news weekly comes with strings of course, the magazine has run up debts (unspecified in the deal announcement) and takes on the burden of fulfilling subscription orders that may not be covered by ad sales.

But, just as Bloomberg’s Michael Bloomberg may have anticipated with his similarly cheap purchase of the once-mighty Business Week from McGraw-Hill, an advertising recovery in the US is finally under way and new owners can cut costs much more easily than old ones.

With so much global news issued immediately to all via the internet there is no need to support a huge staff of correspondents; commentary is far more important. Harman says he doesn’t plan to slash Newsweek’s 300-odd staff but it’s hard to see what a sensible owner would find to do with them all.

And feisty wife Jane, who combines liberal social views with an aggressive outlook on the rest of the world, will surely be rather pleased to have her own ‘bully pulpit.’

So Newsweek, including its website of course, remains a compelling media brand and may indeed prove to be a bargain.

At 91 it will be interesting to see how long term Sidney’s plans are. But these American tycoons seem to go on tycooning for ever.

What are they on?

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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.