This year will be the last that Newsweek publishes a print magazine. With these sort of things, the reaction among journalists is always a strange mix of sorrow, schadenfreude, and giddy relief. Many people seemed to say Newsweek's demise was a moral punishment for Tina Brown's increasingly desperate covers. But Newsweek was drowning before Brown found it. To say the magazine died from sensationalism is like saying Titanic passengers died from screaming too loudly.
This is an economic story, plain and simple. The print news business is grim and hardly needs a lengthy explication. The best print-and-save metaphor comes from James Fallows' analysis of Newsweek's plight back in May of 2010.
Imagine a 747 flying between two flush and populous metropolises. Call them Newsweekly Reader City and Advertiser City, if you wish. Now imagine if both cities enter a prolonged recession, as both experience a massive exodus. Over time, you have the same huge expensive infrastructure serving two metros whose wealth and population have collapsed. What happens next? You don't exactly need McKinsey to come in and tell you: "We're gonna need a smaller plane."
How big, exactly, was Newsweek's 747? In 2010, according to Ryan Chittum, Newsweek spent $222 million a year, including $42 million on more than 300 employees (one-third journalists). The biggest expense by far was putting out a print magazine. Subscription services, circulation, and production of the physical magazine came to $102 million. But print was also the source of more than 90 percent of revenue. Overall, the magazine lost almost $30 million.