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'Newsweek' Editor Brown On Print Edition's Demise


The word tenacious can also describe Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, and also a regular guest on this program. She had made headlines at many magazines over the years and also made headlines on those magazines. Last week, Brown announced that Newsweek will end its print edition in January. But instead of going out of business, she says she wants to go on. She wants to turn Newsweek into an electronic magazine for tablet readers, like the iPad, supported by advertising and reader subscriptions.

TINA BROWN: Newsweek is a very, very powerful global brand. This is a brand with an 80-year deep background, deep history. It is widely, widely recognized. It is very difficult, I think, to launch from scratch a digital magazine product. But I think, you know, a brand like Newsweek, when there are only three or four such big news brands in the world, you know, and Newsweek is one of them.

INSKEEP: But you're trying to get people behind a pay wall with this one here.

BROWN: Yes. We have people subscribing now. You know, we have 44,000 subscribers just beginning in January with our Newsweek iPad, and we're going to be able to transfer many of our subscribers from Newsweek print to Newsweek digital, and we believe we can grow on that. And we've also - have a business plan, however, that, you know, has other ways as well to make revenue. And we have a digital parent company, NIAC. It was really print that in a sense was an anomaly in that company, so we're, you know, we're going to be in a much better place now to maximize our digital assets.

INSKEEP: Here's one of the challenges of people publishing digitally. It seems that many of the most successful news websites are basically aggregators. They either link to or rewrite other people's original material and get readers very cheaply that way. It is harder to make money if you are producing original content. Can you make the budget work to be producing original content that is sufficient for people to buy it and still make a profit?

BROWN: We do believe that, yes, because The Daily Beast has developed such an extraordinarily strong following amongst a high demographic who are now beginning to go to The Daily Beast as their - really as their prime news site, which was something we didn't even aspire to when we began. And that, of course, only happens with original content. We have broken so much news in the last few months. I mean we have really led on the whole Libya story from Eli Lake's brilliant reporting. That is original. That's not about aggregation.

INSKEEP: There was some sour response to this announcement, which you should have an opportunity to respond to. There was a columnist, for example, for Reuters, Felix Salmon, I think is how you pronounce his name.

BROWN: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Felix Salmon writes: Newsweek is going to have to suffer a painful and lingering death. There's no way that first-rate journalists are going to have any particular desire to write for this doomed and little-read publication...


INSKEEP: ...especially if their work is stuck behind a pay wall.

BROWN: Well...

INSKEEP: He just thinks you ought to kill it off.

BROWN: I know he does. Well, you know what? I've been going against naysayers all my life. For instance, so many people when I launched The Daily Beast did exactly the same thing. They said who needs another online news site? Why do we need The Daily Beast? Well, The Daily Beast has grown 70 percent in the last year. The Daily Beast is on fire with its traffic. We have proved all those naysayers wrong.

INSKEEP: If you look at other publications that have tried to put up a pay wall, some have succeeded, some have failed. Who works? Who is an example you'd want to follow?

BROWN: Well, I think that, you know, we're seeing the, you know, the quote, porous paywall work for The New York Times, for The Wall Street Journal...

INSKEEP: Oh, that's where you can get through to a lot of articles...

BROWN: Yeah. Yeah.

INSKEEP: But at some point, if you use it a lot, they're going to start charging.

BROWN: Precisely. And that's very likely the direction that we're going to be going to.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Tina Brown, as you say goodbye to the print edition of Newsweek, you became quite famous - even more famous than you were - for the covers in Newsweek.

BROWN: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Some of which were criticized and controversial. I think of the one where there was an illustration of what Princess Diana would look if she were still alive.

BROWN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Do you regret any of those covers?

BROWN: Absolutely not. The notion that somehow a cover should be some kind of quiet, you know, unobtrusive event has never been part of my lexicon. It never was at Vanity Fair when I did the Demi Moore cover for which I was roundly criticized at the time, and is now an iconic cover in every magazine...

INSKEEP: Oh, that was Demi Moore being quite round at the time, you're talking about, sure.

BROWN: That indeed it was. Demi Moore pregnant at the time, and the notion that I was somehow praised for that is absolutely not correct. I mean it was a most controversial cover that, of course, took Vanity Fair from 700,000 to 1.2 where it - million - where it rests today, and which is in every iconic cover book.

INSKEEP: Are you disappointed at all, that the covers did not save the print edition of Newsweek?

BROWN: There was no cover that could save the print edition of Newsweek. It cost $43 million to simply print, manufacture, distribute before you've hired a single writer or photographer. So the economics of publishing print no longer worked and that's why we're going to go all-digital.

INSKEEP: Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, which is going to become a tablet publication after the first of the year.

Thanks very much.

BROWN: Thank you, Steve.


PAUL SIMON: (Singing) ...When the radical priest come to get me released, we was all on the cover of Newsweek. Yeah, and I'm on my way now, I don't know where I'm going... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.