Wednesday, August 04, 2010

739 Two Hundred Nine Dollars Off the Cover Price

739 Two Hundred Nine Dollars Off The Cover Price

Got those Harman/Kardon speakers in your lap top? If not, change laptops. Sidney Harman's going to need the money. Here's the thumbnail: Harmon and partner Bernard Karmon started the Hi Fi company of the same names. Harman was in and out of it over time and finally retired in 2008. Sidney Harman is 91 years old and just bought Newsweek Magazine. No, no, not this week's issue, the whole company. Selling price, one dollar (and debts.) The actual buck is roughly $209 dollars off the cover price if you buy a year's worth of issues on the newsstand.

Harman has been teaching off and on, for 50 years. First it was black kids in Virginia when a district decided to close its schools rather than desegregate. Then it was at one of the big California colleges. He wrote a book called "Life Begins at 90," and he's taken big risks before. Example: his factory workers set their own hours and left for the day when the job was done. That's not a common labor policy, but it works for HK and its successor Harman International.

So who reads Newsweek? Apparently no one. And the "media experts" and "media analysts" all seem to think that the age of the stand-alone weekly magazine is over. The "book" loses money by the bucket. The analysts say it needs a partnership with another medium to stay vital. It had that. The Washington Post has owned the thing for a long time. The Post has newspapers, websites, broadcast outlets and more. The "synergy" wasn't working. Back to basics.

People buy and read magazines because they have stuff inside that no one else does or perspective that no one else does or great pictures or great writers. Newsweek stopped having most of those things years ago. So along comes billionaire charitist and buys the thing for a buck. Can he turn it around? Yes, if he lives long enough. Semi-rival Forbes Magazine says Harman comes from a long line of longevity. He has to understand one thing: content is what sells magazines. You can have the best writers and photographers on the planet and if the editor is a dolt, the magazine is a dolt.

Bloomberg bought Business Week Magazine not long ago. Paid more than one dollar. But not a whole lot more in the world of billionaires. Since then, BW has again become a power to reckon with in the worlds of publishing and internet. If BW bombed, the new owners could walk away from it and not feel the loss. It it won't, and they won't. You can bet Steve Forbes and whoever is running Fortune this month are watching their behinds closer than they used to.

Chief rival Time Magazine had best do the same. But Harman has to make changes at the top. As did the people who bought the Saturday Evening Post from Curtis Publications. See Wessay #236 for a similar story in a more magazine-friendly era. Maybe there's life in the old Newsweek yet. If there's anyone who can coax it from its coma, it's Sidney Harman. May he live long enough to do it.

Shrapnel: No M. Monroe here to sing it. But happy birthday, Mr. President, happy birthday to you. Illegitimi non carborundom.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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