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Newsweek co-founder: “As long as there is demand, we will continue to print”

It seemed an unlikely marriage. Newsweek, a magazine brand that can boast 80 years of reporting on world-shaping events, and IBT Media, a digital-only publisher with a heavy emphasis on technological innovation. Yet IBT Media's purchase of the title and its subsequent relaunch as a print magazine has taken the industry by surprise.

At the FIPP World Congress in Toronto today, IBT Media's chief content officer and co-founder, Johnathan Davis, explained why the company had acquired the brand and what its plans are for the future.

In some respects, Davis is an unlikely chief content officer. His early career was in Silicon Valley building chips in semiconductor companies. Yet Davis had a passion for digital-based media, which was realised when he met IBT’s co-founder, Etienne Uzac, in 2005.

The pair’s vision to deliver media with a global perspective has yielded several highly influential and profitable properties including, IBT (which boasts 90 million readers each month) Medical Daily, Fashion Times and others.

Yet it was the acquisition of Newsweek, which has arguably been its most interesting, innovative and talked about move.

In 2012 Newsweek was owned by The Washington Post and haemorrhaging a significant amount of money. The Post closed the print edition and instead repositioned Newsweek as a digital-only brand. But then IBT came along.

The acquisition started in a slightly bizarre way – via a real estate deal.

“In 2011, IBT Media was expanding and we were running out of office space,” explains Davis. “We ended up moving into Newsweek’s offices and because of this we were in close contact with their key execs. We joked at the time that now we had their office we might as well get the brand. So when they called us in 2013, we seized the opportunity.”

Having purchased the brand IBT Media then set about relaunching the print edition, but first Davis and his team needed to re-think the magazine. “Newsweek had been a news digest, a review of the week with a deep understanding of what happened,” explained Davis. “Yet that’s available on the internet, so we needed to change it.”

Davis put together a new team and a new content philosophy, but kept the facets of the brand that he felt made it great in first place -  “great storytelling, great writing.” What emerged was a shiny new platform for great opinion and analysis and not just a digest.

For Davis the purchase and relaunch of a print Newsweek made total sense. “Newsweek matches the DNA of IBT Media,” he said. “We knew there was tremendous brand equity when we bought it and we wanted to add digital know and experience to the brand.”

“We started to get a lot of correspondence from old subscribers asking for the magazine again. And once we understood there was some demand, we thought let’s focus on re-launching with a superb editorially-driven product aimed at consumers rather than advertisers.”

“We wanted to create a magazine that people would want to buy,” he added. “So we went for amazing covers, high quality paper, perfectly bound, great photography. I believed that if we focused on the consumer advertising would naturally follow.”

Asked whether print was short-term strategy and if Newsweek might become digital only gain at some point in the future Davis responded robustly.

“As long as there is demand, we will continue to print.”

David then went on to look at the potential brand extensions for Newsweek.

“Newsweek still has tremendous brand equity. It is instantly globally recognisable. Newsweek speaks to the world. So we are looking for the right type of licensing partners to extend its reach. We are the stewards of the brand, the voice, tone etc. and we can partner with others on digital best practices, but they will know their market better than we will.”

“With Newsweek we have a world class brand with world class content. We are still finding best practice for storytelling and journalistic rigour. And we see a lot more headroom. We are only getting started. We will have bigger teams on the business side, we are also going to focus on events and licensing and then of course, more partners.”

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