It was a massive rewrite for the Hollywood Reporter: move breaking news online, kill off the daily trade paper and replace it with a glossy, celebrity-filled weekly magazine.
The goal was to attract advertisers from outside Hollywood. And it worked.
“We’ve been successful breaking through,” said Lynne Segall, publisher of the Reporter.
A June edition of the Reporter had 59 full-page ads, including a cover wrap and a fold-out insert, compared with the 24 full-page ads the Business Journal counted in the magazine in early 2011.
Rival trade publication Variety followed the same script. Variety shut down its daily print edition, moved breaking news online and invested in a high-end weekly that launched in March.
It’s a rebuke to the notion that print is dead. Instead, the magazines have re-invested in ink. They’re publishing fewer but more expensive editions to lure a wealthy, urbane readership.
At first, nobody was quite sure if the Reporter’s audience – and advertisers – would go for it. But now, Segall said revenue at the Reporter will be about $50 million this year, compared with about $30 million the magazine was generating in 2010.
The numbers can’t be independently verified. Also, the revenue includes lines of business such as events as well as paid circulation and ads on the website – but the largest part comes from selling display ads on paper, she said.
“Print continues to be the main driver for our revenue,” Segall said.
The publication is owned by New York financial services firm Guggenheim Partners and has about 160 employees, according to its masthead, including international bureaus and contributing editors.
Many of the ads now come from luxury brands the magazine had wanted to lure when it announced the shift. For example, the Reporter in November published a supplement that featured timepieces of actor Don Cheadle and TV host Bill Maher, among others. Segall said the edition was “editorially driven,” but it did bring in a big dose of watch ads.
Variety is tweaking the format. Like the Reporter, its new weekly uses plenty of photography printed on high-quality paper to create an aesthetically pleasing print product.
But while the print edition features the occasional celebrity cover shot, the stories inside have kept a focus on news more relevant to entertainment industry insiders and executives, rather than a consumer crowd. For example, there is a story in a June issue on how “Iron Man 3” was marketed to Chinese audiences.
The goal is familiar: increase the volume of advertising, not only from the entertainment industry, but also from technology companies and consumer brands.
Michelle Sobrino-Stearns, Variety’s publisher, said it’s working so far.
“Ad revenue is up,” she said. “It’s not because we’re covering consumer-related (stories) but because there are automotive brands that are (marketing to) high-net-worth individuals. We’re selling the value of the readership.”
Variety’s shift was set in motion by Jay Penske’s Penske Media Corp. of Los Angeles, which purchased the publication for about $25 million in October. Under Penske, Variety also commissioned a website redesign and dropped its subscribers-only paywall. A masthead count shows Variety has about 90 employees.
Sobrino-Strearns, who was promoted to publisher shortly after Penske took over, said the adjustments accommodate reader preferences.
There were savings from ending the print daily. But those were offset by the cost of launching the higher-end weekly and overhauled website.
Samir Husni, who runs the magazine innovation lab at the University of Mississippi, said the decision to spend on print makes sense.
“Variety and the Hollywood Reporter are discovering that they have to present something that readers will take time to digest,” he said. “They’re trying to do what every smart print publisher has to do – be in the business of collectibles not disposables.”
Husni added that digital sites get a lot of attention, but the fact remains that big organizations need better-paying print ads to keep the lights on.
And it appears that print advertising is healthy.
That’s especially true now as the Emmy Awards approach next month and TV networks pump out millions of dollars to appeal to voters from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Ballots were sent out earlier this month and are due by the 28th.
The Reporter’s Segall said it’s been a healthy Emmy advertising season for all the trades, as well as the Los Angeles Times, which runs the ads in its Calendar section and Envelope supplement.
The ad spending has been boosted by the emergence of technology companies that produce their own shows. For example, Netflix – a newcomer to the content business – has taken out “For Your Consideration” ads in the Reporter, the Times and Variety for “Arrested Development.”
“Believe it or not, the pages have gone up,” Segall said.
The print trade dailies became irrelevant with the rise of Hollywood trade reporting by digital sites, most notably Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood, an earlier Penske purchase.
Nearly instantaneous posts on trade tidbits such as TV series pickups and casting information left the dailies reeling. Their print editions were once the privileged place for breaking news of that sort.
Others are simply repositioning the daily print product for analysis.
John Corrigan, assistant managing editor of arts and entertainment at the Times, said since Variety and the Reporter have ceased their dailies, it’s actually opened up an opportunity for the newspaper.
“We often break news on the Web and come back and have a different take on it, a different spin, in print,” he said. “Because others have stopped doing that, we are in a good position.”
After Variety announced it was ending its daily print edition, the Times ran an advertisement in March, stating: “We live Hollywood. Daily.” The advertisement boasted that the Times has more readers in Los Angeles than the New York Times, Variety, Reporter, TheWrap.com and Deadline Hollywood combined.
The Times homepage does indeed have a larger online audience than the trades. It’s also different because it charges readers for access after they read 15 articles each month. The trade sites are all free.
The Reporter’s site has the most visitors of the rest. It’s followed by Deadline, TheWrap, and then Variety, according to May numbers from web traffic firm Comscore.
But as Variety has remade its print edition, its site was also the fastest growing of the bunch in the past year. Sobrino-Stearns said that had a lot to do with dropping the paywall. She’s hoping that by attracting new online readers, more people will one day buy a print copy.
“The entire reason was that we felt we were missing out on the next generation of Variety readers,” she said. “The next generation is critical to us.”
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