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After Newsweek, U.S. News Offers Different Model

Checking in with the news brand, two years after it ended print
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While the pundits ponder the future of a digital-only Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report offers a different lesson for magazine publishing.

U.S. News went all-digital two years ago as part of a years-long process of deemphasizing print in favor of online rankings at USNews.com of colleges, hospitals and other institutions.

The experiment paid off this year: U.S. News has gone from unsustainable weekly to a profitable business with 15.1 million monthly unique visitors, executives there said.

“We’re profitable now, and we’re in growth mode,” said Bill Holiber, president and CEO.

Print now contributes only a tiny share of U.S. News’ income, in the form of occasional newsstand publications. Digital advertising provides close to half the revenue. The rest comes from income that companies pay U.S. News for the names of qualified leads; data from U.S. News’ vast archives that it packages and sells to institutions; licensing fees; and a new and growing conference business.

“It didn't happen by accident,” Holiber said. “It took us several years. In order to get there, we felt we had to get out of the print business.”

It’s a long way from the 1980s when U.S. News was scoffed at for running rankings, its proprietor Mort Zuckerman said. “There were a lot of naysayers at the time,” he said.

Far from thinking of the rankings as a future business, he was just looking for a way to enhance the back of the issue. “We were just looking for a back of the book,” he said. “We thought it was a useful service to readers, and it became an essential service to readers. Who knew at that point how well it could work online?”

Holiber projects growth coming from conferences, lead-generation revenue and from expanding its existing rankings, like healthcare. But there’s another unexpected area of growth for U.S. News. The brand has added some 10 journalists in the past few months to provide general news coverage for the site.

It may seem odd for the brand to suddenly return to news after beating a radical retreat, but the move seems to acknowledge that the site can’t survive on rankings alone and that it needs news to broaden its appeal.

“We really got out of the news business online,” Holiber said. “Just this year, we went back to doing some traditional news coverage. We’re not going to be the size of The New York Times, but we think it’s important for our brand to have a seat at the table in the news world—so we’re part of the conversation.”