Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Bullish

Taking sharp aim at its rivals, Bloomberg BusinessWeek is prepping for a relaunch April 23 that it boasts will “reinvent” the category, with shorter stories, 20 percent more editorial pages and three more issues for a total of 50.

The moves come as others are retrenching. Fortune cut its frequency to 18 from 25 issues this year. Forbes reduced its frequency by four issues, to 20, and will staple some of its issues, suggesting a bearish outlook for ad page growth. In an ad campaign teasing its relaunch, BusinessWeek crows that it’s doing the opposite of the competition.

Buyers who have seen a mock-up of the relaunched issue called it fresh and modern looking. The Bloomberg name, which was added after Bloomberg LP bought the title in December, is bigger on the cover, and new skyboxes tout the issue’s content. The magazine itself will be printed on heavier stock.

As for the content, BusinessWeek plans to publish more articles, but shorter ones, which will let it fit twice as many stories in 20 percent more edit pages. People will figure more prominently on the cover and inside the magazine as a storytelling tack. And the weekly will add leisure/arts coverage, told through a business lens.

“They’re going to keep the gist of what a weekly business publication is and at the same time do more deep-dive stories,” said Darynda Jenkins, senior vp, group media director at TM Advertising. She said the lifestyle coverage could help BusinessWeek expand its audience while the emphasis on people could help set it apart from Fortune and Forbes. “What they’re looking for are business stories that aren’t the same old stories you see across all the titles.”

Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen, said that in the mock-up he saw elements of The Economist—for which Bloomberg’s chief content officer Norman Pearlstine has expressed admiration—in the use of editorial viewpoints. He said story angles and storytelling through people were reminiscent of Fast Company and Fortune (which itself redesigns with the March 8 issue with heavier paper stock and more emphasis on service).

BusinessWeek has an upward climb, though. The title reportedly lost in the tens of millions of dollars last year. Most of the estimated $50 million Bloomberg is believed to have paid for it was in the form of liabilities.

In general, the business category is still finding its footing, with core advertisers like finance and tech having cut way back in the downturn. BusinessWeek’s ad pages fell 20 percent to 158 this year through the March 8 issue. Its rivals fared somewhat better; through March 1 Fortune was up about 1 percent to 150 and Forbes was down 15 percent to 141. Readership is another story; those business titles have seen stable subscription numbers, and the latest audience figures show several had gains.

Jenkins said while she thinks BusinessWeek can still have a place in a time of media on demand, it has to be compelling to readers. “I think these changes are great, but ultimately, they have to deliver on the content,” she said.

Bloomberg LP, which declined to comment on the relaunch, has been candid about its plans for BusinessWeek since buying it from the McGraw-Hill Cos. The finance and data giant sees the 80-year-old weekly as a platform to extend the Bloomberg name and reach a mass audience, leveraging its huge news-gathering staff.

That may be well enough for Bloomberg, and some category observers hope that the investment will stir up excitement in business magazines in general. But some have questioned where BusinessWeek fits in Bloomberg’s bigger scheme.