How the Economist Thrives in the Age of New Media

I’m attending the Future of Business Media conference in Manhattan, and probably

the most surprising thing so far is how impressive Susan Clark was, on a panel

about business magazines. Clark is the global marketing director of the Economist,

and while everybody else is concentrating on "liquid content" and

"wide aperture stories" and other such buzzwords (thankfully, there’s

no sign of the magabrand

as yet), the Economist seems to be doing extremely well by staying narrowly

focused on the refreshingly old-fashioned goal of increasing the number of subscribers

to the magazine.

While and the events business do contribute to the bottom line,

says Clark, they contribute even more to building the Economist brand, and making

it more likely that people will subscribe and renew and get into the habit of

reading the magazine in their favorite armchair at home every weekend. The Economist’s

readers, says Clark, "read us out of choice, they don’t read us to get

ahead in business" – which may or may not have been a response to

Roger McNamee, an investor in Forbes, who said earlier on that "most of

our audience wakes up every day hoping that somewhere they’ll get the insight

that makes them rich." is (almost) free, then, because that’s the best way to make it

easy for people to find stories and to decide that they like them so much they

want to subscribe to the magazine. Clark isn’t worried about cannibalism: "most

people would not read the entire magazine online," she says. The bits of

the website which aren’t free (archives over a year old, some multimedia content)

are free to subscribers: they’re a way of making subscribers feel special.

All of this makes perfect sense to me. International business executives want

and need to be broadly informed, but they’re also busy, and they love the roll-up-able

magazine which they enjoy reading at home or on the plane, not on their computer

screen. The website basically serves to remind them of how much they like to

do that. Those of us who live on the web will keep on pushing at them to do

things like serve

full RSS feeds; I’m sure that they will do sooner rather than later. But

I am sold on the idea that an old-fashioned magazine like the Economist has

managed to retain its old business model in an age when everybody else seems

to be jettisoning their old business models in favor of the unknown.

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