The fight to stay fresh and relevant doesn’t just apply to aging starlets in Hollywood. That’s also the name of the game for the aging print trade publications that cover it.
Variety has just unveiled a new look for its weekly magazine, the latest shot in a near centurylong circulation war with the rival Hollywood Reporter.
The facelift comes as the two entertainment trade magazines – and newer competitors in print and digital – are in the midst of a long-running pitched battle for a niche audience of powerful, affluent readers and advertisers in the entertainment industry.
It is a rivalry that hasn’t been as pretty and polished as the actors who grace their respective covers. Negotiating with Hollywood’s biggest players and fighting for exclusive coverage in a hypercompetitive industry has led to vitriol back and forth, including everything from allegations of manipulating social media numbers to stealing writers – even filching content.
Throw digital upstarts TheWrap and Deadline Hollywood into the mix and a real donnybrook is afoot.
“These days, it’s less between the Reporter and Variety and between Deadline and everyone else,” said Marc Bernardin, who worked for the Reporter. “And for the trades, it’s a scoop-based economy. Everything flows from exclusives – readership and ad dollars.”
Today, the trades are feeling pressure to compete not just for industry readers but also for impressions on digital platforms and broadcast networks. To survive and stay profitable, reaching consumers outside of Hollywood has become increasingly important.
And so aging starlets Variety and the Reporter have dolled themselves up in the hopes of maintaining and expanding their appeal.
“The editors at any great magazine are always in a dialogue with staff and readers about what can be improved,” said Andrew Wallenstein, who along with Claudia Eller is co-editor-in-chief of Variety. “But this was in no way an overhaul. It was a refinement of strategy.”
If this latest new look is merely a refreshing touch-up, the changes three years ago would have been the eight-hour operation. In 2013, the magazine made the biggest change in its history when it went from a daily to a weekly. Hollywood Reporter had done the same thing in 2010.
This month’s changes to Variety’s print product range from tiny to tentpole. The pacing and flow of the book was tweaked, while a new easy-to-read font was introduced throughout.
“Our No. 1 goal was to create a clean, streamlined experience for our weekly reader,” said Nelson Anderson, vice president of creative, who oversaw the redesign process along with Wallenstein and Eller. “Our reader is unique in that they are incredibly busy. They have a very finite amount of time to catch up on what’s going on in their industry.”
Photography has also played a role in the redesign. The approach has become much quicker and more focused on multiplatform possibilities – a trend that’s being pushed by the need for real-time content on digital.
The Hollywood trades haven’t been immune to the declines in print readership and revenue that have plagued some of the most iconic newspapers and magazines during the past decade. The rise of the internet and increased dependence on mobile devices has pushed legacy media companies to rethink strategies to reach readers.
Variety’s website will get a new look to match the redesigned magazine in the coming months in an effort to make it a more organic extension of the print publication, Wallenstein said.
Still, there’s been ample reason to revive print, even if it only serves as a small piece of the multiplatform pie.
The Reporter has an estimated print readership of 70,000; Variety has about 50,000, according to the latter’s publicist. Advertising rates at the publications can run all the way up to about $66,000 for a full-page ad.
The growth of the digital footprint for both has eclipsed years of decline in print readership. According to Chicago-based data analytics firm comScore, the Reporter has led recently with about 14.1 million unique visitors on desktop and mobile traffic to its website in April – an increase of 10 percent from the same period a year ago – while Variety posted about 11 million, a nearly 20 percent increase in traffic over the same period.
“The Variety brand is tied up in awards season,” said Wallenstein. Indeed, it overtook the Reporter – and all other competitors in the space – in online traffic for the first time in March after the Oscars at the end of February.
As readership has declined, the live events and conference business for the trade publications has grown.
Variety will host its latest “Actors on Actors” television special on PBS next month, and both trades have expanded their program of special screenings, panels, and discussions.
“Remember, multiplatform means just that: It’s not just print and digital anymore,” said Mary Murphy, senior lecturer at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “These events are designed to drive business back to the website and print publication.”
As newspapers have been more corporatized – like the studios – ironically an emphasis on brand personality has become increasingly important for the trade publications to maintain or gain market share.
The new era has largely been ushered in by women with strong backgrounds in news – and the way each one has driven the focus of the publications they lead has highlighted their individual sets of expertise.
Janice Min is widely acclaimed as a relaunch expert. As editor-in-chief of Us Weekly, she grew that magazine’s weekly circulation to 1.9 million in 2009 from 800,000 in 2000. In 2010, she was brought on to relaunch the Reporter as a glossy weekly magazine and has succeeded in increasing readership, revenue, and web traffic at the publication, where she is now chief creative officer.
Min declined comment.
Newcomer Deadline Hollywood, founded by reporter Nikki Finke in 2006, quickly became a symbol for how the trade war had been heating up in Hollywood.
“I had no interest in becoming an extension of the Hollywood publicity machine,” Finke wrote in a recent article reflecting on Deadline Hollywood’s 10th anniversary.
Variety owner Penske Media Corp. acquired Deadline in 2009 after a strong push from the media company’s founder and Chairman Jay Penske. Finke exited in 2013.
Another feisty newcomer started to cut into readership, too. Sharon Waxman launched entertainment website TheWrap in 2009.
“She has certainly upped the game,” said Murphy of Waxman. She, like Variety’s Eller, came from newspapers – Waxman from the New York Times and Eller from the Los Angeles Times, where they both focused on hard entertainment news.
Variety, founded in 1905 – a century before TheWrap – is now focused on competing with more video content to match its new digital-first, social media-savvy competitors.
A recent video TheWrap posted about the death of musician Prince produced 18 million views, with a reach of 80 million on Facebook, Waxman said. Its website has also grown significantly since last year, with more than 5 million unique visitors in April, according to comScore.
“This is stuff millennials like, this is stuff that advertisers want,” said Min in an NPR interview last month. “What it comes down to is creating stories people actually want to read and people will talk about.”
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