When James picked up the mail Saturday I noticed he glanced strangely at the cover of one of the magazines. Instead of a weighty issue as the cover story of The Atlantic there was a large colored picture of Britney Spears for their story on the new paparazzi. Between ‘gag’ and ‘what!’ I wondered what had happened to the magazine that always had a higher calling.
At 150 years old, The Atlantic remains an intellectual journal of public affairs and culture. But owner David Bradley also wants it to end a long spell in the red. So in the past year it poached Justin Smith from The Week to become its president; committed to moving its ad-sales team from Washington to New York while integrating digital and offline efforts; abandoned its online pay wall to lure more visitors; placed new emphasis on events including the Aspen Ideas Festival; and commissioned a magazine redesign.
Now the Britney cover story is bound to attract new attention to The Atlantic. The magazine maintains that the issue’s editorial is not driven by Mr. Smith’s ambitious five-year business plan, the redesign or any of the rest — but it arrives at a time when The Atlantic’s pages and newsstand sales are down, while celebrity titles are still going stronger than any magazine category.
I for one hope that this is not a trend that continues as there are plenty of ‘dumbed-down’ publications that are just not worth my time. I would very much hate to add The Atlantic to that list. Advertising Age even hints at the backlash from readers such as myself.
But will core readers and advertisers stay true?
This is the question for magazines on the remake. The answers, especially amid the broader media-world transformation, can be brutal.