Newsweek Sale Not A Surprise, Just Business

The announcement that Newsweek is up for sale should not be a surprise. And it may say as much about the newspaper business as it does about magazines.

Yes, the magazine's owner, The Washington Post Company, has another prominent publication that is facing economic problems. So the fact that the company seeks to jettison its troubled magazine makes sense.

And given the recent problems for magazine's industrywide, Newsweek facing a sale seems in line with the state of the business.

But even if the business logic is clear, the thought of one of the oldest and most prominent news weeklies being sold, and perhaps shutdown if needed, grabs attention simply because it was almost unthinkable only a few years ago.

This is similar to The New York Times or Washington Post being put up for sale, and entirely for economic reasons. We have not hit that moment yet in newspapers. But it may not be far off.

The Times, Post and others such as the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal are facing tough times and have already slashed staff and cut costs. The fact that the Journal was sold from the Bancroft family to News Corp. a few years ago indicates where things are going.

The hit for Newsweek and other magazines is similar to those for newspapers -- a combination of lost circulation and ad revenue. And for magazines it may be tougher as they are sometimes harder to transfer to the Web given the lack of a daily routine that newspaper readers have.

Jack Shafer at Slate put it as well as anyone, writing: “We all die. The magazine graveyards teem with publications that stopped satisfying enough readers and advertisers. It will be a sad day for me when Newsweek joins them, because as a teenager in the 1960s, I depended on it for a full-throated account of a world beyond my dismal Midwestern home. But cheer up, readers! There isn't a minute that something new and wonderful isn't being born."

If Newsweek can be saved, hurray. But whoever owns it will likely have to make further cuts and find some way to expand on the web, and make money, while keeping the product solid. A challenge newspapers have so far had trouble meeting.