Indisputably, the Hollywood Reporter, the 80-year-old entertainment industry trade newspaper, is in need of a new strategy, its old one having been undermined by leaner, nimbler online competitors. But the new strategy it just unveiled -- replacing its daily print edition with a glossy weekly magazine aimed at a wider audience of Hollywood watchers -- might be worse than sticking with the status quo.
The idea is to expand the Reporter's reach beyond its current base of showbiz professionals to a vaguely defined group of "influencers," according to Richard Beckman, CEO of e5 Global Media, the company that bought the Reporter and seven other trade titles from Nielsen last year. Influencers are "the opinion leaders, early adopters and tastemakers who set consumer trends"; reaching them means increasing circulation from the current level of 47,000 to around 180,000 in three years, says Beckman.
Beckman, a longtime Conde Nast executive, comes from consumer magazine publishing, as does Janice Min, the former Us Weekly editor he hired to run the Reporter, so it's natural they would think in terms of wooing consumer audiences and advertisers. But it's a mistake -- an obvious, amateurish mistake.
Advertisers are interested in one thing: efficiency. There are two ways for them to achieve efficiency with an ad buy: through mass (so that the costs of one ad are spread out across millions of eyeballs) and through focus (so that marketing dollars for a given product or service are selectively channeled toward people who are disproportionately likely to pay for that product or service). The idea of "influencers" -- a small group who control the spending of the masses -- is a myth, an attempt to have it both ways. It's the media-world equivalent of trickle-down economics.
But don't take my word for it. This strategy has been tried before. In 2003, Variety launched a glossy spin-off, V Life, intended to parlay its wealthy and influential audience into luxury advertising dollars. It lasted two years. You would think the folks at the Hollywood Reporter would be aware of their arch-rival's relatively recent failure. Instead, they've chosen to repeat it.