By Ray Paulick
Word that the position of Blood-Horse magazine editor in chief Dan Liebman had been eliminated earlier this week came just one day before the Washington Post announced it was putting Newsweek up for sale because management “did not see a path to sustained profitability” for the weekly newsmagazine.
No other reason was given to employees for Liebman's departure, so the assumption is he is just another economic victim of the weekly publication owned by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, hard hit by the economic recession, difficult times in the horse industry, and changing readership habits.
Whether you are writing about world events or horse racing and breeding news, weekly magazines face a serious challenge in the era of the Internet, cable news (or cable horse racing channels), and social networking.
Newsweek, according to a report by the Associated Press, has lost about 25% of its staff over the last two years due to buyouts and early retirements. It still had 427 full-time employees at the end of 2009, when it lost $29.3 million.
Through terminations and early retirements, Blood-Horse magazine has reduced its staff by roughly 40%, from 114 to 68, over the last 30 months. Unlike Newsweek, a division of the publicly traded Washington Post Co., Blood-Horse's financial records are not available, but anyone who's read the magazine over a period of time has seen the number of advertising pages reduced dramatically. The magazine is so thin, it can no longer print the date and page numbers on its spine. It's been redesigned and freshened up with more commentary and analysis, but that hasn't brought advertisers back. Its parent company, TOBA, does not have the resources to subsidize it through prolonged financial losses.
Thoroughbred Times, the other horse industry newsweekly, also has suffered from a reduction in advertising dollars spent in printed publications. Its staff has been cut by approximately 30%, from 63 to 44 full-time employees over the same time frame. Unlike Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times is part of a large conglomerate owned by Norman Ridker, a successful California-based publisher of consumer niche magazines like Cat Fancy, Dog Fancy and Horse Illustrated, among others.
Jessica Chapel, writing in her Railbird blog, speculated the elimination of Liebman's position “seems a strong hint that Blood-Horse, which already leads the Thoroughbred Times and Daily Racing Form in such areas as web design and the use of RSS and the Twitter API — will be putting more emphasis on developing their online presence and digital products.”
But can a robust digital strategy financially carry a flagging print product? That doesn't seem likely, according to Frank Ahrens and Howard Kurtz, writing in the Washington Post about the efforts to sell Newsweek. “Many newsweeklies have racked up similar losses (to Newsweek) as readers and advertisers abandon the magazines for the Internet's frequently updated news offerings,” Ahrens and Kurtz wrote. “But even with the shift to the Web, online advertising revenue still represents pennies on the dollar compared with print advertising. Newsweek brought in only $8 million in online ad revenue last year, (Washington Post Publisher Donald) Graham said.”
Does this spell the end for an icon like Newsweek magazine? And if Newsweek goes out of business as a print product, what does that say about the future of the Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times?
Read about the plight of Newsweek here.
Then return to the Paulick Report to let us know what you think.
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