Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reading Eulogy: The Death of Portfolio Magazine

As a small time personal investor with limited amassed personal wealth, I have always had a keen interest in business, even in my youth. It could have to do with the Jewish upbringing, and that my father still subscribes to 60% of the magazines and newspapers available to himself (this includes random women’s magazines that he has no business getting but he subscribes to any magazine that sends out a solicitation.)

For more than a decade, I read Businessweek pretty much every Friday sitting at our weekly family dinner/reading session at a kosher-style deli (where as a vegetarian I stuck to a diet of health salad, pickles, & a knish). But since the recent housing bubble, I found Businessweek repetitive, non-useful, and unreadable so I let my subscription lapse. I am planning to do the same thing with the bi-weekly conservative talking point fest Forbes. Forbes’ cover story this issue is “Survivior’s Guide for the Affluent.” I also occasionally read Money, but that seems geared to older people/late term retirement investment planning.”

The one pleasure I still had in business magazines was Portfolio from the mega publisher Conde Nast. I recommended it to anyone with a mild interest that I knew with a mild interest in business topics. It opened with excellent op-ed columns following quality medium sized pieces but the best part of the magazines was the long, well written all-encompassing features like Michael Lewis’ The End or the recent article about the hedge fund optimist Bill Ackman, a feature on Iceland’s Prime Minister and wife (no longer online), or even the return of Howard Schultz to Starbucks.

Portfoilo was a young magazine with high aspirations for high class clientele, coming into a tough market which avoiding finding a hot female CEO to put a bikini for the cover. Portfolio was too classy for that; it stuck to being an adept overview of the business world at large and that’s probably why it failed. As many media commentators have espoused, we live in a USA Today cum
blog driven world that has shrunken attention spans even further with the explosion of the twitter epidemic. People don’t read long, in depth articles. At least, the young demographics that seem to be the only thing advertisers are willing to pay for. They read timely blurbs of immediacy. We don’t think and ponder thoughts anymore before we divulge them, we just react instantaneously with anonymous blog comments, user reviews, and Facebook status updates. It’s a true shame.

Younger people’s minds are being underserved by their own choosing. They are being underserved in high end, well thought out prose style features. Blog posts can but long but often poorly edited, if edited at all, (see my previous posts) and are prone to meandering rather than focus. Time is no longer on the side of the writer. I’ve thought of a little blogger’s credo, “If you wait, you’re too late.”

Maybe one day the net generation will realize the value of publications like Portfolio, Vanity Fair, & The New Yorker (both Conde Nast as well). There is some similar excellent publications that can take up some of the Portfolio’s slack like Wired(more techie then biz) and the underappreciated Fast Company (focuses on high tech business) but soon it will all be only online anyway. And the good old days, the excitement of a magazine arriving freshly printed in your mailbox will be over. This has been beaten to death by all types of media pundits for sure, but every time a quality publication disappears usually the void is filled. I’m not sure what will fill the Portfolio void but I hope I won’t have to print to out to be able to touch it.


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