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Newsweek Going All Digital, Blames (And Thanks) Tablets

Editor-in-chief Tina Brown of Newsweek announced this morning that the December 31 print edition of Newsweek will be the last, but hardly the death of Newsweek. It will become "Newsweek Global," supported by paid subscriptions, and available through e-readers and on the Web.

The time is right, says Brown. "In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format," she wrote. She bemoaned the challenges of print, while emphasizing that Newsweek’s online and e-reader content has built a rapidly growing audience through the Apple, Kindle, Zinio and Nook stores as well as through digital-only sister publication "The Daily Beast."

In fact, "The Daily Beast" (now four years old) attracts more than 15 million unique visitors a month, a 70% increase in the past year alone.

Brown promised that Newsweek journalism will remain unchanged; she said nothing yet about the advertising.

Te announcement comes, ironically, just one day after a speaker at the American Magazine Conference said "Face the reality that print will eventually go away." As Folio reports, Ben Horowitz, technology entrepreneur and co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said on a panel “Babies born now will never read anything in print. At the same time, people in their 40s and 50s will never stop reading print.” He observed that people born in 2012 wil never be print enthusiasts.

Still, there was good news. Phil Wiser, CTO for the Hearst Corporation, told the crowd that Hearst has over 700,000 paid digital subscribers, 80% of whom are new customers. Wiser claims that engagement on these digital editions include a 70% open rate, and as high as 90% for some titles

Don' mourn for Newsweek, media buyer Robin Steinberg told AdWeek, calling the move "A leadership move and progressive…They are following the consumers' category consumption behavior." Indeed, the Pew Research Center for People & The Press observes that readership of print magazines is down to 17% of consumers in 2012, from 23% in 2002.

Yeah, but advertisers have to follow the consumption behavior as well. As George Janson, managing partner and director of print at Group M told Ad Age, that will depend upon whether consumers are willing to pay for Newsweek.com "When there are thousands of other websites and sources of information…Will it be fact-packed and credible and have the star power of Tina Brown?"

The New York Times banked on superior journalism to capture digital subscriberships, a strategy that has largely worked. But of course the Times has its print edition as well. And to be realistic, Newsweek is not The New York Times. It is more akin to Time Magazine, which last year carried 1,370 ad pages, down nearly 50% in the past five years. (Time claims to be committed to a combined print/digital publication.)

Newsweek Daily Beast Co. has promised details in the coming weeks.

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