I was as surprised as anyone to hear on Friday that the Industry Standard, a weekly magazine launched a few years ago with the mandate of covering the New Economy, is ceasing publication. That is, I was surprised even though I kind of expected it, just like most everyone else who’s been keeping an eye on the magazine.
Back in May of last year, I wrote about what had by then become a distinct newsstand category—the Big Fat New-Economy Magazine. I gathered up then-current issues of that Fat Pack—the Standard, Fast Company, Wired, Business 2.0, the eCompany Now, Forbes ASAP, and Red Herring—and noted that they totaled an astonishing 2,714 pages. The magazines seemed to be caught in a sort of buzz feedback loop: The fatter the magazines got, the hotter their core subject seemed to be. Yet the explosion of advertising necessitated far more pages of editorial than could possibly be filled by compelling stories. Only the most creative reasoning could conclude that world of Big Fat New-Economy Magazines all made perfect sense, so my unsurprising hunch was that this state of affairs seemed unsustainable.
But still! The implosion of the category has been almost more brutal than the bursting of the Internet bubble itself. I’d been meaning for weeks and weeks to round up the same magazines again, and the news of the Standard’s demise finally got me to make the drive to Barnes and Noble.
Here, for posterity, are the figures: Red Herring has gone from 628 pages to 100; Fast Company, from 418 to 148; Wired, from 400 to 180; Forbes ASAP, from 224 to 64. Business 2.0 and eCompany Now have merged and gone from a combined 772 pages to 214 in the re-launch debut. The Standard ran 272 pages in that previous column and had fallen to 88 in what turns out to be its final issue. So the aggregate page count fell from 2,714 to 794 if you count the last issue of the Standard, 706 if you don’t. Either way, allow me this intellectually indefensible comparison: Even using the higher number, the combined page count has fallen by over 70 percent, even more steeply than the Nasdaq.
Though this turn of events has gotten plenty of coverage, there are still two minor observations to make. Like a lot of people, I’m sad to see the Standard go. (Because I have friends and former colleagues at all these magazines and I’ve written for a couple of them, particularly the Standard, I’m not going to make any editorial judgments here.) It may be hard to see good in such a swift and violent contraction, but it was obvious that this shakeout needed to happen. Partly because of these magazines, there are a lot more talented business journalists around than there were five years ago, and that’s a positive thing. On the other hand, it got hard to deny that at their peak these publications were also signing up practically anyone with even a tentative feel for the subject, and in the long run it’s better for everyone that those folks have moved on. Unfortunately, the way these things inevitably play out, some of the discarded talent that deserves to find a new home faces incredibly grim prospects. (Here you may feel free to note that in light of this, my own apparently steady employment is arguably proof of imperfections in the talent market. Just don’t tell the people I work for.)
The second observation relates to the other publications that created that bull market for business journalists—the Web-based ones. While almost all of them face uncertain futures and have dealt with their own shakeups, layoffs, and ad slumps, it’s surprising how many are still publishing. I wonder how many people a year ago, when Web pubs were posting quarterly losses in the tens of millions and the Standard was on its way to selling more than 7,000 ad pages for the year, would have guessed that it wouldn’t outlive, say, TheStreet.com? It’s true that there are still likely some obituaries to come among the online financial journals. As for their print cousins, as bad as things have gotten, I won’t be surprised if the formerly Fat Pack gets thinned out even more.