Portfolio had a flashy, expensive launch, and the goal of becoming the definitive business publication for the new economy. But in the new economy, advertising is on the decline, print is "over," and independent bloggers can produce a lot faster and more efficiently than the magazine's extensive website. What great irony: thanks to the recession interest in business news is higher than ever, but the fact that business is bad makes the magazine unsustainable.
Portfolio's 85 employees were handed pink slips this morning, just the latest group of well-regarded veteran journalists to get the boot. The advertisers who used to populate Portfolio's sleek pages, luxury cars, banks, and high-end fashion, have dwindled. This isn't a huge surprise: last October Conde Nast cut the magazine from 12 to 10 issues per year, had some layoffs, and slimmed down Portfolio.com.
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Can business magazines, which rely on the sectors that are struggling the most (banks, luxury goods, and autos), survive? What will happen to Time Inc.'s Fortune Magazine (NYSE: twx) (Full disclosure: I was a reporter for Fortune for six years before joining CNBC in 2006). Just today the Fortune 500 issue arrived in the mail, and this annual issue that's usually the size of a phone book has gone on a major diet. The journalism is strong and the information - like the data in the Fortune 500 - is important, and is sure to live on in some format. But is that format all digital? Will the magazine only be published once, rather than twice a month?
The economy will recover eventually, but it's unclear how much advertising will return to print, and what kind of magazine that new slimmer revenue stream will sustain. The metabolism for business news has sped up dramatically. People no longer muse on Business Week (NYSE: mhp) stories over the weekend or look forward to a Fortune popping into their mailboxes every two weeks. One factor working against Portfolio Magazine was its long lag time and spread-out printing schedule. If you can watch business news all day and read instant updates online, business magazines have to provide even more value than ever to get readers and advertisers to pay.
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