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The other day I wrote a post on how some media were faring in the internet age – ‘Dead Tree’ business models. I recently came across this video at The Atlantic, in which Michael Hirschorn who has written on a number of aspects of change in the media discusses why Time and Newsweek circulations have fallen whilst that of The Economist, a premium priced magazine, has grown substantially. The video serves to introduce an article by Hirschorn in The Atlantic.
The Economist is far from perfect, but as Hirschorn notes:-
True, The Economist virtually never gets scoops, and the information it does provide is available elsewhere … if you care to spend 20 hours Googling. But now that information is infinitely replicable and pervasive, original reporting will never again receive its due. The real value of The Economist lies in its smart analysis of everything it deems worth knowing—and smart packaging, which may be the last truly unique attribute in the digital age.
For a magazine that effectively blogged avant la lettre, The Economist has never had much digital savvy. It offered a complex mix of free and paid content (rarely a winning strategy) until two years ago and was so unprepared for the Internet that it couldn’t even secure theeconomist.com as its Web domain. (It later tried, unsuccessfully, to claim the URL.) Today, access to the site is free of charge, excepting deep archival material, but while editors have made some desultory efforts at adding social-networking features, most of the magazine’s readers seem to have no idea the site exists. While other publications whore themselves to Google, The Huffington Post, and the Drudge Report, almost no one links to The Economist. It sits primly apart from the orgy of link love elsewhere on the Web.
This turns out to have been a lucky accident. Unlike practically all other media “brands,” The Economist remains primarily a print product, and it is valued accordingly. In other words, readers continue to believe its stories have some value.
I have read The Economist now for a great many years. At one time I read also Time and Newsweek, but stopped years ago. Primarily because The Economist is less relentlessly American in it’s viewpoint taking a Anglo-Saxon view, but a more global one. Indeed, some might say that Time and Newsweek suffer from not only having an American viewpoint, but one which plays only within the Beltway. The Economist takes a much broader perspective.
I do not agree with Hirschorn’s view of The Economist’s web presence, I find the site quite good and I especially like the debate feature.
Hirschorn’s article deserves to be read in full. His closing words bear consideration and not just in the context of media:-
In the digital age, razor-sharp clarity and definition are the keys to success. Knowing what and who you are, and conveying that idea to an audience, is the only way to break through to readers ADD’ed out on an infinitude of choices. General-interest is out; niche is in. The irony, as restaurateurs and club-owners and sneaker companies and Facebook and Martha Stewart know—and as The Economist demonstrates, week in and week out—is that niche is sometimes the smartest way to take over the world.
I think that last comment about niche, especially when coupled with the concept of razor-sharp clarity and definition are particularly pertinent and not just in the media world. They can be applied for example to the practice of management consulting for example.