As Print Mags' Suffering Deepens, The Web Side Pays A High Price

This story was written by David Kaplan.
The digital side of the business is supposed to be the salvation for magazine companies, which, like their newspaper counterparts, are shedding print jobs.
But as a recent NY Observer piece suggests, digital staffers are hardly protected. And in a few cases, they're bearing the brunt of the layoffs.

Growth offers no safety: It's true that online ad growth has been slowing for over a year. But all the latest forecastssuch as today's downward revision from Barclays still expect respectable gains of at least 5 percent next year. Nevertheless, CondNet felt the need to make across-the-board cuts last month in preparation for reduced revenues. In addition, its parent Cond Nast said it was suspending all website revamps, and last week decided to close a blog network tied to Glamour, Allure and Self magazines.

Further proof: Another example of cuts falling surprisingly hard on the online side came in October, when Mansueto Ventures concentrated its 20 job cuts on the digital side of Fast Company as part of a decision to fold Mansueto Digital into the company's print operations. Meanwhile, as part of a sales reorg at Forbes Inc. between online and print, shuttered ForbesAuto and pared down the staff at ForbesTraveler. Just this week, The Deal Inc. let go of 10 percent of its staff and said it was shuttering its flagship magazine's channel, even as it prepares to introduce new digital features next month.

Where the value is: One major online publisher I spoke to recently said that because of the "limited visibility" into next year, the company was told to make cuts now, even though advertisers have not pulled back yet. This source noted that the situation has been different on the company's print side, with advertisers reducing spending steadily and ad pages trending down. The reason digital isn't being spared is simple: online ad dollars still show no signs off-setting print losses. Also, as NYO, citing an AdAge interview, quotes Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner as saying, the print reader is still worth a whole lot more than the online reader.

By David Kaplan