Do Opinion Magazines Still Matter in the Age of Blogs?
Franklin Foer, age 31, has been named the top editor at the legendary The New Republic. Many are wondering whether it matters.
The New Republic’s circulation has dropped by almost 40 percent in four years; it cut its circulation and staff salaries after aggressively spending on the Web in 2002. Meanwhile, its historical role as a maypole for middle-way Democrats is under challenge from countless Web sites and bloggers.
To look at The New Republic, with a weekly circulation of 62,000 and a demure size of about 40 pages, the subject of who might be its editor would seem to be a game that is played in a very small parlor. But among people whose animating force in life is public policy — there are such folk, and many of them make decisions that affect the rest of us — The New Republic remains as resonant as it was in the days when Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan or Michael Kelly served as its editor. Others think it has more than lost a step, and perhaps purpose, in a digital age when political argument is abundant.
But Mr. Foer has ambitions for the magazine that go beyond throwing analytical weight and associative power at any particular issue. “We live in the most politicized age since the 60’s, and I don’t think that political journalism has been up to the task,” he said. “The good old-fashioned things that a political journal does — the explication of ideas and ideas — are not in great abundance right now.”
TNR and its many cousins–National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, Washington Monthly, the American Prospect and many more–put out a substantial quanity of good pieces unavailable elsewhere. Fewer bloggers have the resources, especially time, to produce magazine quality pieces. Still, collectively, there’s more good work out in the blogosphere than any of us has time to read.
A weekly circulation of 62,000 is just sad. While comparing paid weekly subscribers to weekly unique visits is hardly apples-to-apples, there are still a whole lot of blogs that get comparable readership. A substantial number have a lot more than TNR.
And it’s not just that blogs are free while magazines cost money. TNR is quite inexpensive, at least if one subscribes. Amazon has it for $60 a year, less than the cost of a Starbucks latte per month. Certainly, that price would not dissuade many of the type of people who read opinion journals, who tend to be educated and affluent.
I suspect circulation is down for the same reason that I no longer subscribe to TNR or NR: Time. I can not through all the worthwhile blog posts I want to read in a day, let alone go through a lot of long form articles. I still subscribe to a fair number of magazines and a couple of foreign affairs journals but I often don’t get through them. And the Internet has almost surely shortened our attention span. Blog posts are almost always shorter than magazine pieces and very few of the top bloggers do a lot of long form writing on their sites.