Goodbye News and Sports Magazines, Hello Happy Paws and Hungry Girl

Jeffrey Trachtenberg has a great journalism piece, “In Lousy Market, Magazine Giant Axes Nostalgia, in today’s Wall Street Journal. Some opening grafs:

At magazine publishing giant Meredith Corp., top brass believes business can be divided into “problems” and “situations.” Problems can’t be solved with any amount of time and money. Situations, on the other hand, can.

Managing the difference, they contend, is the key to surviving a declining industry at its darkest moment.

When Meredith acquired Time Inc. last year, it quickly spotted the problems: Time magazine, Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated. The titles had the richest history and greatest prestige, but they depended on news content easily found elsewhere. Meredith didn’t see a way to change the downward trajectory, so it put them up for sale, with little nostalgia. . . .

It’s a practical approach: Invest in assets with the promise of profit growth; don’t waste money trying to fix hopelessly weak ones, no matter how strong the romantic attachment. . . .

Executives at Meredith don’t see the picture as uniformly grim. While they believe there isn’t value in magazines providing news or sports coverage in an online world awash in real-time updates, they see big opportunities in the lifestyle arena, where food, fashion and home content isn’t time sensitive, and the styles of famous personalities have unique power.

Some examples of where Meredith sees opportunities for growth:

Happy Paws, which focuses on the emotional needs of animals and issues they face, including stress and anxiety. The debut issue in April, priced at $9.99, contained such stories as “Understanding the Canine Mind” and “What is Your Dog Saying?”

Magnolia Journal, a lifestyle publication launched by Chip and Joanna Gaines who have a home-renovation show on HGTV.

Hungry Girl, a newsstand-only recipe-focused publication price at $9.99 in partnership with Lisa Lillien, a cookbook author and creator of the Hungry Girl website.

A Meredith executive cited the company’s philosophy as “focusing on women and not news-generated content.”

And Meredith points out that its location in Des Moines, Iowa, is a competitive advantage, with salaries there about half of what they’d be in New York City.
There’s no mention in the story of Southern Living, once one of Time Inc.’s most profitable magazines. In the late 1980s a Time Inc. executive called me to see if I’d be interested in editing it. I’d been at the Washingtonian for 20 years and the Southern Living salary would have been twice what I was making.

I sat down at our kitchen table with my wife and two young daughters and asked what they thought of our moving to Birmingham, Alabama, where Southern Living is located. No offense to Birmingham but their expression suggested I’d be going alone. I suspect many of the Time Inc. executives in New York City felt the same about moving to Des Moines.


  1. Richard Mattersdorff says

    How much did you know about “southern living” at the time? How necessary is subject-matter expertise for being an editor of a certain subject matter?

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