I spent nearly 32 years writing for BusinessWeek and its successor magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, before joining The Times in 2021. So I was taken aback last week to learn that the weekly I love won’t be a weekly anymore. In a memo to employees, Bloomberg announced that the print magazine will be reintroduced next year as a “premium monthly product.”
The good news is that the team behind the magazine will remain largely intact. The memo said that the staff will step up its production of audio, video and events and will continue to emphasize “ambitious long-form journalism” — “long-form” being a term of art for “long.” No layoffs have been announced. One sign that things aren’t so bad is that the staff meeting at which the change was announced ended with extended applause, not boos, according to people who were present.
I interviewed Joel Weber, my ex-boss, who has been the editor of the magazine for the past six years. As evidence that the product is in strong demand, he pointed to a new Businessweek-branded TV show and podcast, as well as strong readership for Businessweek stories on the Bloomberg website and Apple News+. “There’s a lot more mojo for Businessweek,” he said. “I’m excited to see what this new era is going to look like. What if the best days are ahead?”
It’s an encouraging thought. Still, the beginning of a new era means the end of an old and treasured one. The first issue of what was then called The Business Week appeared on Sept. 7, 1929, just seven weeks before the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. It has been a weekly ever since (although the owners have skipped issues here and there, such as over the winter holidays, when advertising was slow).
Economics was at the heart of the weekly’s coverage from the start. The editors underestimated the severity of the economy’s troubles in 1929 and 1930, but as the Depression deepened, they went against the grain of business executives’ thinking and strongly advocated aggressive government action to restore growth.
“Business Week’s editorials offered perhaps the most sophisticated Keynesian-style economic analysis of any mass publication, and its influence may have been disproportionate to its circulation, as it targeted an elite audience of businessmen,” Ranjit Dighe, an economics professor at the State University of New York, Oswego, wrote in a 2011 paper.
From 1954 to 1969, the magazine’s coverage was led by Leonard Silk, who held a doctorate in economics and later became a columnist for this newspaper. I started covering economics for the magazine in the 1990s under the tutelage of Michael Mandel, like Silk a Ph.D. economist, who was early to understand and write about the influence of technology on economic growth and fluctuations.
Businessweek was “astonishingly” successful over the years, Stephen Shepard, who was editor in chief from 1984 to 2005, wrote to me in an email. He added, “It was highly profitable for decades, often carrying more ad pages a year than any other magazine, with The New Yorker a close second.”
The New Yorker, The Economist, People, The Week and a few others are still making a go as print weeklies, but the list of stand-alone publications that come out every week is shrinking. Time is down to about 24 issues a year, U.S. News is entirely digital except for its ranking editions and Newsweek, which had gone digital, is back to trying to print weekly. As for business titles, Fortune and Forbes are down to six print issues a year. (The exact numbers for each publication depend on whether an issue that’s labeled a “double” can fairly be described as two issues.) Businessweek might have been closed by now if not for Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire majority owner of Bloomberg L.P., which bought the magazine in 2009 and breathed new life into it.
In this era of nearly instant communication, it’s faintly ridiculous that people are still growing trees, cutting down trees, making paper, etc., etc. Printing and mailing costs have soared in recent years. And many younger readers haven’t developed the habit of reading magazines in print. (Businessweek’s audited weekly circulation was down to 229,000 in the second quarter, from around 1 million at its peak.) That seems to make going strictly online — or at least cutting back on print publishing frequency — the obvious choice.
The dilemma for publishers of print magazines is that cutting costs by going online also cuts deeply into revenue, since online ads are cheaper than print ones. It’s also tough to charge as much for digital subscriptions as for print ones, Rick Edmonds, the media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, told me. Plus, it’s harder to stand out in the cacophony of the internet than it is when your publication sits on the coffee table.
That said, Businessweek’s switch to a monthly frequency is part of the broad shift in journalism toward electronic-only publication. (I should know: This newsletter is mostly electronic, with some editions running later in print.) As Weber told me about Businessweek, “It made more sense to invest digitally than to invest in the print product.”
Bloomberg isn’t saying yet whether Businessweek will change its name once it becomes a misnomer. Shepard told me he thinks it should remain Businessweek in honor of its roots. He has a point: 20th Century Fox didn’t change its name when the century changed, nor did 7-Eleven when its outlets started staying open all night, and dollar stores now charge more than a dollar.
Outlook: In the Desert, Progress on Climate Change
It’s too soon to declare this year’s climate summit in Dubai a success, but it got off to a good start last week with a first-day deal on a new fund to compensate poor nations harmed by climate change. Rich nations have so far pledged about $420 million to the fund. The early agreement “will send a powerful signal to all of the negotiating rooms,” Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which runs the annual meetings, said before the deal was adopted.
Quote of the Day
“Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.”
— Sandra Day O’Connor, in a dissent from a Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London (2005)