U.S. News & World Report recently announced it will be ditching its one million-plus paid subscriptions next year in order to move "very aggressively into digital," according to Brian Kelly, the magazine's editor.
This definitely constitutes a bold move for the magazine, considering that their paid subscriptions account for all but six percent of the print circulation. Going forward, the monthly print editions and special editions will be available only at newsstands.
While this may sound crazy, there might just be a method to their madness. Despite reaching more than one million readers every month, its circulation is on the decline, and the ad dollars necessary to be profitable are far less dependable than they used to be. Furthermore, digital ad spending appears to be on the rise.
However, the abandonment of print could be costly. Advertising dollars often shrink to advertising pennies when moved to the Web; therefore, achieving scale of Googlesque proportions is required to get rich using the digital ad formula. According to comScore, the average CPM (what one can charge for 1,000 ad impressions) is only $2.43.
Furthermore, I question whether their digital shift will prove to be as beneficial in the long run as they hope. The reason is U.S. News & World Report is a print brand and has been for a long time. Regardless of how aggressively they move into digital, many consumers will continue to perceive it as a print brand.
Consider what the following brands conjure up in your own mind: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, GQ, Sports Illustrated, and Vanity Fair. Conversely, names like The Huffington Post, TMZ, Gawker, The Daily Beast, TechCrunch, Yahoo, and Twitter own a different image, as these brands were created as digital entities, and thus, exist in one's mind as such.
That explains how the Huffington Post outpaces online versions of established news brands like The Washington Post and USA Today and how a Web brand like TMZ can nearly triple the unique visits to the online edition of a TV brand like E!. New brands always lead a new medium.
I do give the folks at U.S. News & World Report a lot of credit for trying to focus their brand; however, I think if they move to digital they need to go one step further. Put that name rest and begin anew as a digital brand.
The Web is more challenging, but it doesn't have to be a death sentence. In fact, the need may be greater than ever. Available information multiplies more rapidly than ever, so shouldn't someone organize and make sense of it for us?
This post also appeared on Talent Zoo's Beneath the Brand.