When was the last time you discussed Time Magazine around the dinner table?
I found myself giving a dissertation on mass media at dinner the other night. It all started when one friend leaned into the table and spoke (in an almost embarrassed whisper), "Did any of you see the cover of Time Magazine? The one with the mother and her older child... breastfeeding?" I knew that they were talking about the issue dated May 21st, 2012 titled, Are You Mom Enough? by Kate Pickert. The article about Dr. Sears and the attachment parenting movement has created quite a stir, but I wanted to tease my friends, so I asked, "Does it offend you?" As is always the case, everybody clammed up hoping that someone else would fall on a sword (and we would either save that person and defend him or watch him squirm and then make fun of him on Facebook).
The real question is this: why did Time magazine run with that cover story?
The answer to that question comes in the first line of this blog post: Seriously, when was the last time you talked about Time magazine? While the magazine continues to publish, it feels like it has been on some kind of paper diet for a while now. Thin, without much content, Time (once the weekly magazine that every smart person -- or wannabe -- had to have) has now become somewhat dated and tried. Without blaming the Internet, for their current state of affairs, it's apparent that magazines like The Economist, The New Yorker, Fast Company, and The Atlantic are transcending the whole "the Internet is killing the magazine business" discourse that is both unfounded and untrue. The Internet simply brought more choice. More choice does not create business challenges, so long as the quality and value is perceived by an audience. In fact, as those other magazines mentioned above prove, the Internet is finally starting to create new and interesting business models for these publications.
It's all about the PR.
The real reason that Time ran that cover is publicity. They need to sell magazines. The only way to sell magazines (if people aren't hooked on specific writers or stories that they can't find anywhere else) is to create controversy. The challenge with this publishing tactic is that it firmly places Time into the tabloid marketing camp: where it becomes a game of diminishing returns. The magazine will have to keep on being controversial (in fact, increasingly more controversial) to keep people coming back (and talking about them). Has Time lost its way?
The mass market is a tough market.
In creating a news magazine geared towards everyone, Time is quickly learning the same lessons that the web portals had to learn: In an Internet world where people can grab content that is very niche oriented, the general (more mass) content needs to have particular angle. Time wins awards. Don't kid yourself. They have legitimate and great writers. They understand the magazine business. All that being said, that magazine cover was published for one reason, and one reason only: to sell more magazines. It shouldn't offend you. That's not true. They're actually hoping to offend you because the more people talk about it (like this article), the more likelihood it will have for commercial success.
Doesn't it feel like too much of chasing the mass media dragon in a very different world?