I love Fortune magazine. It is a long-time love affair that I routinely share with colleagues, friends, and students. I even create writing assignments around special themed issues, such as “The 50 Most Powerful Women in Business” and “The Leadership Issue” in hopes that my students will begin their own relationship with the magazine.
With the March 3, 2008, issue, however, I am finding much less Fortune to love. The issue weighs in at a paultry 106 pages. More distressing than the lean look is the anemic 35 pages of content I counted. Can there really only be 35 pages of interesting business news in the world today?
I am not disparaging Fortune’s content, but rather the lack of articles. As a matter of fact, I like the recent design changes to make the magazine look better. The layout is fine. But, “where’s the beef?”
Perhaps the answer lies in the overall economic picture. Time-Warner faces tough times. The company recently announced additional cuts to its magazine division, which includes People, Time, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune. Last year, the company shuttered Business 2.0, the technology-focused magazine that somehow survived the dot.com bust, but died in the Web 2.0 revitalized world. Has anyone been able to sufficiently explain that one?
Certainly magazine ads (all advertising, really) are less appealing in a belt-tightening era. Many of the current issue’s advertisers are foreign companies: Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, RBS, etc.
Maybe the digital world is finally nailing the coffin of traditional magazines, as observers have predicted for the last decade or so. I teach pre-professional students, most of whom will make their careers in communications and my guess is that less than 10 percent of them have ever heard of Fortune, much less read it regularly. But, they know every detail of whatever pop culture scandal is current and they all read Perez Hilton. Marc Andreesen, Netscape founder and technology guru, initiated a “New York Times Deathwatch,” calling the company out for being…basically…obsolete in today’s age. [Ironically, reported in the link above by Josh Quittner, Fortune's Executive Editor, who does not seem to get that the same forces that place NYT on a deathwatch do so for Fortune.]
So, take a great, venerable magazine…add a struggling parent, declining readership, younger audiences that would rather watch YouTube videos, and a general economic downturn and you and I get a Fortune on life support.
This after the annual reup for my subscription offered me the “special subscriber rate” of $49.95 a year, when the book is routinely listed on sites across the Web at $29.95! [I must note that Fortune's customer service reps gave me the lower rate when I contacted them about this issue. But imagine how many people they got at $50 a year?]
Please Fortune, you’ve got great writers and a fascinating subject to illuminate. Figure out what gives. Just like any other organization, I believe part of the answer will be to reinvigorate the brand through reputation management and communications.