Friday, September 21, 2007

Fortune Moves Into India While BW Moves Into .... Chicago?

I was delighted, and intrigued, to read this morning that Fortune is planning to commence an India edition (hat tip: Talking Biz News). I think this is interesting for two reasons.

First it meets a huge unmet need in India, which desperately needs more intelligent and in-depth coverage of its business scene. It also is a smart move because Indians are fascinated with global business, and the U.S. and European business magazines, while available, are prohibitively expensive and scarce.

Second is the inside-baseball perspective, and how it contrasts dramatically with the retrenchments and deglobalization at my alma mater, Business Week.

Late in 2005, BW announced it would shut down its international editions. (Here's the BW spin on this retrenchment.) In so doing, BW threw out the basic tenet under the former regime of Steve Shepard that it was a "global magazine." It also laid off a bunch of talented people.

I remember well how Shepard used to make "We are a global magazine" the first of the "ten commandments" of BW's operations, which he used to trot out at conferences and such. BW has done some good stories on India, including a 2004 cover story on the country that garnered some of the magazine's last major awards. But it has basically given up on Asia as a market.

In keeping with this U.S.-focused strategy, BW recently announced that it was commencing a Chicago edition. This may be the beginning of still more locally focused editions, BW says.

It's interesting to contrast the two strategies. BW's is vaguely reminiscent of how newspapers moved toward suburban and regional editions in the 1960s and 1970s. But there is a difference. Big-city newspapers had an obligation to follow their subscribers as they moved out to the exurbs. BW's has no such demographic imperative. On the contrary, this strikes me more as an admission of defeat in the battle for ad dollars, a kind of conscious narrowing of its mission.

It also is questionable as a circulation-building strategy. Will this really induce Chicagoans to buy Business Week? The local market already has the Chicago Tribune and Crain's Chicago Business. BW simply doesn't need to cover Chicago in the same way that, for instance, the Hartford Courant needed to cover the town of Vernon when it established a bureau there four decades ago.

People in Chicago read BW because of stuff like this, a nice piece on a ratings downgrade --cutting close to home because of Standard & Poor's -- and not for local biz news.

I'm reminded of what an old colleague, one of the best financial journalists in the business, told me when he left BW, without another job, back in 2004. The financial magazine business is undergoing a secular change, he said, and it is going to get uglier.

His prediction has proven correct. Still, Fortune's move into India shows that some magazines are willing to take risks and still have a global vision.

UPDATE: BW Chicago died after eight issues.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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