A year and a half after buying The New Republic and rescuing it from the jaws of death, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes took to the company’s new blog to give an update on the state of the business. And while it may be a long way off from becoming the "New Yorker” of Washington, D.C., it’s been a busy period for the 99-year-old title.
In that time, The New Republic has doubled its staff, opened a New York office, redesigned its site, relaunched the print edition and introduced a new tablet app. Along the way, Hughes, who took the title of editor in chief as well as publisher, also took some hits for passing on Steve Brill’s health care opus that went on to become a best-selling issue for Time magazine and for missing an opportunity to ask tough questions in a Q&A with President Obama.
Hughes used the blog to recap those changes and point to examples of hard-hitting journalism about the Clintons, corporate law firms and American day care. He also ticked off some business metrics: circulation grew 20 percent in 2012 (TNR passed the 50,000-circulation mark this summer) and is on track to grow another 20 percent in 2013. Web traffic has grown sharply, to an average of 2.4 million monthly uniques for the past three months from 800,000 in February 2012.
Hughes, who bought The New Republic out of a desire to support quality reporting and longform writing in print, has evolved somewhat in his attitude towards the Web, revealing his discovery that “it actually rewards quality, thought-provoking writing.”
When it comes to attracting advertisers, though, those Web and circulation figures are still tiny compared to competitors like Slate, The Atlantic and The Economist, and aren’t necessarily going to help The New Republic get to Hughes’ stated goal of profitability in a couple of years. Circulation may be on the rise, but it’s come at a cost, as Hughes dropped the annual subscription price to attract new readers.
That may be why all Hughes’ plans seem to be about digital. He wrote that in the coming year, he plans to “significantly grow our digital experience” and create a native mobile app. He plans to add to the Web and mobile development team, hire “several people” who are savvy about writing to maximize online traffic and add salespeople with digital expertise.