Bloomberg’s Pearlstine: Grilled

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“I didn’t say the magazine has to be profitable. But we have to run BusinessWeek as a business.”

Norman Pearlstine, best known as the former editor-in-chief of Time Magazine, has been chief content officer for Bloomberg LP since June 2008. Last week Bloomberg bought BusinessWeek for a reported $2 million-$5 million, a bold gesture of support for newsprint at a time when venerated titles like Gourmet are being shuttered, and magazine ad pages are in a downward spiral. Pearlstine got grilled by TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman.

Everyone else is getting out of print. What do you know that everybody else doesn’t know?
Certainly print has been under assault. I do think that there are some very good editorial resources at BusinessWeek. We have the editorial resources to expand the content side. With 145 bureaus in 72 countries, I think we can create a very strong global business weekly.
The two interesting business stories have been The Economist, which has doubled its circulation to 1.3 million and 850,000 in the U.S. And the renewal rate is $116.  And The Week’s U.S. circulation is around 550,000. And when I went online to get a subscription, it cost me $50.
Meanwhile, I”ve been offered Fortune for $10. And Time and Newsweek for mid-$20s. BusinessWeek is $34 on average. It’s a very difficult equation, but if we can really be committed to a true weekly with expanded coverage, we can make that transition from the BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune set .
We have to basically deliver a product that there’s consumer demand for.
Does the niche aspect of BusinessWeek make it more viable?
Your initial question was about print. I wasn’t responding about online. There’s a question in print about consumer demand for business news, because it tends to be about timely information.
It is my belief that business news in a weekly format can be compelling, can be forward-looking and backward-looking in a way that can attract a valuable audience that advertisers want to reach. The weekly format distinguishes you from Forbes or Fortune.
So what about online?
The other question is whether in an online environment it is possible to create either a subscription or paid model for business news more easily than general news. I hate to resort to cliché – but whether it’s business or not, verticals only work when they deliver specialized content that people really want.
In the business space – we’re not yet sure whether we ought to be just ad-supported in terms of a general website or whether there are other verticals we should be creating. We have the great vertical called Bloomberg News, the terminal with close to 20,000 people paying us $1,500 a year.
When you talk about specialized content and verticals – are you saying the Daily Beast doesn’t have a future?
I’m dubious in every respect where I think the business is going. But then I get up every morning and look at it. So I have to figure that if I’m doing that, maybe other people are, too.
What about general news?
When I think about general news, CNN is a brand that I’ll look at. And I tend to go to TMZ because that’s where I think I’m going to find scoops.
Would I ever subscribe to Variety and the Hollywood Reporter again? The answer is no.
Did you used to subscribe?
Yes, both daily and weekly for Variety.  And the Reporter when Bob Dowling was there.  I used to cover the record industry.
I had a major player, a rival of yours, tell me the cost of this acquisition is actually $70 million? Is that correct?
No. That’s just not right. We have all kinds of issues in the contract in terms of discussing it. We’ve not disputed what the BusinessWeek website said was the purchase price. And much as I love him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Who do you think I talked to?
I know who’s most upset about our doing this.
It’s a big nasty world out there. OK. So did you pay $2 million or $5 million?
I’m not going to talk about the purchase price. And we won’t discuss liabilities.
Can we talk about staffing? BusinessWeek has 400 people. Will there be firings?
The quick answer is we don’t know. We only announced the purchase on Tuesday at 5 p.m. What I have said is that we will meet with every BusinessWeek employee in the next six weeks to find out what they do, find out what they might do. We have no skill sets for a controlled circulation magazine. We don’t have the kind of ad sales staff you need to do BusinessWeek.
So those people are safe?
We’re going to meet with everyone and figure out what they do. In the editorial space we need to meet with every BusinessWeek employee for two reasons. There will be an independent staff for the magazine. And we are lucky enough to be a news organization that’s growing and that has needs.
How much time do you give the magazine to be profitable?
I didn’t say the magazine has to be profitable. What we’ve said is we have to run BusinessWeek as a business. But within the world of Bloomberg, there are lots of non-financial reasons to do this deal.