Friday, September 18, 2009

Did BusinessWeek Lose Touch With its Readers?

My old colleague Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek's innovation guru, has an interesting blog post yesterday that is pretty much a first: a current BW staffer publicly engaging in soul-searching about the magazine's troubles, rather than just blaming it on the recession and exonerating the people who have been in charge for the past four years.

You have to go to the video to get Bruce's thoughts on this. He says:

I think, despite many many many efforts at innovation and change, somehow BusinessWeek lost deep contact with its readers. . . there were an enormous number of surveys [and] efforts to be in contact with our readers. But in the end I think they were misleading.

The surveys, he said, indicated that readers wanted the magazine to be "general," and signalled that one needed to "talk to all readers all the time," when in fact the magazine's readers were a "coalition" of people deeply interested in various subjects, technology, finance and such.

I think he's basically correct. I had a discussion with the magazine's media columnist, Jon Fine, on that very point a couple of months ago, and Jon hammered away the company line that the magazine was just fine, and that all the "the editorial product is NOT the problem that needs to be solved. If it was, the reader-side indicators mentioned above would be terrible. They're not. They're quite good."

I pay less attention to "reader-side indicators" than I do to whether I like a magazine or not. I simply have not liked BW under its new management. I'd suggest that the top editors lost touch with their readers because they were so focused on "reader-side indicators" and didn't read their magazine very closely, or compare it with the days when it was a success. Fat advertising was not the only difference between then and now.

I do differ with Bruce on one point. "Surveys" don't manage magazines. It's the job of editors to interpret surveys, and this is where BW's top editors went sadly astray.

© 2009 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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