First Portfolio, the business magazine launched just two years ago by publishing giant Conde Nast, folded. Then, the largest business magazine in America, BusinessWeek, was sold by its parent company, McGraw-Hill (MHP), to Bloomberg for as little as $3 million plus its subscription liabilities. Now, Fortune, started by Time, Inc. founder Henry Luce, will cut its publishing frequency from 25 times a year to 18 times. According to several media reports, Time, Inc. will also cut several hundred jobs. Time, Inc. is part of media giant Time Warner (TWX).
Like BusinessWeek, Fortune began publishing during The Great Depression in 1930, when it came onto the market bearing the steep price tag of $1 an issue. It was printed on heavy paper and contained a sustained level of expensive photography and illustrations not found in other business magazines. Fortune published monthly until 1978, when it changed it frequency to fortnightly in order to match the publishing schedule of rival Forbes.
Business magazines enjoyed unusually high advertising page levels during most of the years from the mid-1970s through the early part of this century. But in the last few years, readers have turned more and more to the internet. Business sites like TheStreet.com (TSCM) and MarketWatch are only ten years old and Reuters and CNN Money have built extensive audiences online. Fortune has found itself in a sea of competition that did not exist a decade ago.
Fortune's problems will not be solved by cutting its publishing frequency. Print advertising will almost certainly never come back to the levels it reached in the 1990s. Like other print publications, Fortune will have to find significant success online to bring in new revenue and remain relevant to readers who are now accustomed to getting business information moment-by-moment.
Fortune is not dead, but it is bleeding, and it probably has very few years to regain some measure of health to compete in the increasingly crowded field of business media.
Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St. He worked on the launch of Fortune International