TV Guide announced yesterday that it will soon be getting bigger -- and also smaller.
The magazine's pages will get bigger. But its circulation will get smaller -- by two-thirds.
It will also contain fewer TV listings and more stories about TV stars.
The new -- and allegedly improved -- TV Guide will debut with the Oct. 17 issue. Now digest-size, the 52-year-old magazine will become full-size, according to a press release issued yesterday by its parent company, Gemstar-TV Guide International.
The company will "purposefully reduce its total circulation" from the current 9 million copies per week to about 3.2 million, in part by eliminating 3 million copies in "sponsored" sales, such as copies given away in hotels.
These changes will cause the magazine to lose between $90 million and $110 million over the next two years, the company predicted, but will make the fewer readers happier.
Despite the cuts, company officials seemed positively bubbly -- at least in the quotes contained in the press release:
"We're boldly transforming TV Guide magazine into a weekly full-size, feature-rich TV entertainment and guidance magazine that will better serve the needs of today's readers and advertisers," said chief executive Rich Battista.
"The new TV Guide will be useful, fun, exciting, newsy and glamorous," said Ian Birch, the magazine's editor in chief, who was hired last year.
Reached by phone yesterday afternoon, Battista admitted that TV Guide is losing money, although he wouldn't say how much. "In recent times, revenues have become negative," he said.
Actually, TV Guide's fortunes have been collapsing for years. Founded in 1953, it grew with television and became one of the best-selling magazines in America. Circulation peaked in 1974 at 19 million a week, with nearly half of those copies sold on the newsstands, the most profitable way to sell a magazine.
Since then, however, newsstand circulation has plummeted -- it is now only about 500,000 copies a week -- and its 8.5 million subscriptions were sold for as little as a quarter a week.
"I've heard they were losing as much as $20 million to $25 million a year," says Samir Husni, chairman of the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi and publisher of "Samir Husni's Guide to New Magazines."
TV Guide's decline came, Husni says, because the magazine's traditional strength, its comprehensive TV listings, are increasingly available online and on TV itself.
"There is no need for a guide anymore," Husni says. "Everything is at your remote control -- with one push you get everything. You have 500 channels now -- to publish a guide you'd need to produce a Yellow Pages every week."
John Loughlin, president of TV Guide's publishing group, agrees. "Listing hundreds of channels no longer works in a practical sense," he says. Therefore, the new TV Guide will provide "focused listings," including the editors' picks.
The new magazine will also give readers what the company's research indicated they want, Loughlin says: more information on the TV shows and their stars. It will be 75 percent feature stories and 25 percent listings -- a reversal of the magazine's current editorial ratio.
But focusing on TV stars puts the magazine in a very competitive field, going up against such popular magazines as People, Us, Star, Entertainment Weekly and In Touch -- as well as Inside TV, which was launched by TV Guide this April.
Will the new move work?
Company officials predict that the new TV Guide will begin to make a profit in about three years. Husni is not so sure.
"Only two people can tell the future -- God and a fool," says Husni. "But if I was a gambler, I wouldn't put any money on it."