Baba Shetty Addresses the Skeptics

'There are going to be lots of pivots'

The Huffington Post gave up on charging for its tablet magazine after just five issues. News Corp.’s The Daily got only 100,000 subscribers, despite heavy promotional support from Apple and an A-list staff of journalists. 

Yet Baba Shetty, who’s taking Newsweek into the great unknown by killing its print edition, is nonetheless banking on the brand getting “several hundreds of thousands” of subscribers to its planned digital edition next year.

Newsweek only has 44,000 digital subscribers for its tablet edition today, compared to a print circulation of 1.5 million. And other digital-only publications have had a hard time attracting enough readers to get advertisers to come aboard.

“No one is waiting for another online news option,” said Audrey Siegel, president of TargetCast tcm.

Shetty, the new CEO of Newsweek Daily Beast Co., acknowledged that advertising wouldn’t be a huge part of the business for the first year.

“This is not a thing that, at least in year one, is overly dependent on advertising,” he said in an interview. “Longer term, we’ll have an interesting proposition. Let’s take an iconic brand that’s not an upstart. You take that meaning and port it over to a form factor that’s unencumbered by the print legacy. It’s really interesting to think about what we can do.”

As an iconic news brand that’s going digital-only, Newsweek may be a first, so look for there to be plenty of tweaking. Since Brown killed off, Newsweek’s digital content has existed as a channel on The Daily Beast. Now Shetty and Tina Brown with her team must figure out how to give away enough content to lure subscribers and keep writers interested in writing for a sliver of an audience without undermining its pay model.

Shetty said there are discussions about making the cover story freely available, but how much other content to give away is still undecided. Then there’s the question of whether the product itself should continue in the same format as the print edition, balancing the need to adapt to mobile readers’ demands with the need to keep it in a familiar form.

“There are going to be lots of pivots as we move through this," he said. "The great news is, we don’t have to slavishly adhere to the print format. But there’s wisdom in making it recognizable."

Newsweek still has some value in print, if not domestically, then overseas: It publishes five international editions, including Japan, Korea and Poland, and those will continue to publish. Shetty said he didn’t think killing off the U.S. print edition would affect those operations, and that Newsweek was in talks to do more global editions.

“I’m not sure to which extent the Japanese edition will care about what’s happening in the United States,” he said. “Print is in a very different arc in different parts of the world.”