This story is part of Endgames, a Digiday Media editorial package focused on what’s next, what’s coming, and what’s being phased out in the industries we cover. Access the rest of our Endgames coverage here; to read Glossy’s Endgames coverage, click here; Modern Retail’s coverage is available here.
The past 20 years in the media industry have not been easy for publishers.
World events, such as the digital revolution, followed shortly by the Great Recession and then the platforms’ algorithm changes in the late 2010s, all mark specific eras of loss felt industry wide. But 2020 could possibly be the hardest and most impactful period of all.
The global pandemic threw an unexpected wrench into the business plans of media companies large and small, and for the unlucky, caused them to shut their doors — or shut down their websites — completely.
Here is this year’s round-up of the publications we lost, or ones that nearly tumbled to their deaths, in 2020.
RIP to the dearly departed
After losing its main means of making money — a tour of live performances — due to the pandemic, then failing to retain funding from Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective in October, Pop-Up Magazine Productions was in a tight spot that caused the company to make cuts. Those cuts came in the form of shuttering its print arm, California Sunday magazine, and laying off 11 staff members from both that publication and Pop-Up Mag.
A print version of California Sunday had been distributed as an insert in the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle from October 2014 until May 2020, at which point it became digital only before shutting down completely this fall. Pop-Up Magazine is still producing video editions of its event-based magazine, as well as selling “issues in a box” that bring the event experience into audiences’ homes.
The women’s style blog Man Repeller, which was first published in 2010 by Leandra Medine Cohen, shut down its site on October 19 following allegations of racism and classism against the founder and the publication. Medine Cohen told The Cut at the time that the site was shutting down because of “financial constraints” that kept it from being able to “sustain the business.”
Bustle Digital Group’s tech-focused site, The Outline, was shut down in April just a year after it was acquired by the company. In addition to closing the site, 24 staffers were laid off from BDG. Despite ceasing publication, the company claims the site itself is not up for sale.
News publishers’ agency businesses
CNN’s short-form documentary production company Great Big Story bit the bullet in September this year, one day after signing a sponsorship deal from its largest advertiser — valued at more than $1 million. The five-year-old company was a place for creative freedom, but as Digiday previously reported, the writing was on the wall as it continually lost money and eventually lost the support of leaders at parent company WarnerMedia, which fought its own battle throughout the pandemic, before ultimately announcing layoffs this fall.
The New York Times’ experiential agency, Fake Love, also shut its doors after 10 years in June. The Times had acquired the company in 2016 as a means to increase its branded content business. In addition to Fake Love closing, 68 staffers, mainly in the advertising and marketing departments, were laid off.
Delta Air Line’s in-flight magazine, Sky, ceased publication and laid off its 16-person staff, according to The New York Times. And Alaska Airlines’ Alaska Beyond Magazine stopped publishing its in-flight magazine, which had been published via Paradigm Communications Group, for the rest of 2020 and for the “foreseeable future,” to limit the spread of coronavirus, per the magazine’s website.
As of Dec. 31, The Correspondent — The Netherlands-based De Correspondent newspaper’s English-edition — will shut down and stop publishing, according to the site’s homepage. As a subscriber-supported publication, subscribers were told they would receive a refund worth the remaining balance of their subscription during the first weeks of January.
The reasons for the shut down were largely financial, according to an internal memo reported by Neiman Lab. “We fell 3% short of our worst case-renewal target of 30% due to failed payments. We’re seeing an increase in churn, up to 25% for annual members, with many members citing financial problems and the Covid-19 pandemic,” the memo said.
Significant stumbles and shake-ups
No, Quartz is not actually dead. In fact, its new owner, co-founder Zach Seward, has high aspirations for what Quartz can become as an independent media company. But let’s not forget the significant round of layoffs that decimated nearly half of its staff in May and the subsequent abandonment by its former owner, Japanese financial intelligence firm Uzabase in November.
What can be declared as dead, however, is the promise that Uzabase co-founder Yusuke Umeda made during a July 2018 all-staff meeting of Quartz after the company bought it off of Atlantic Media. At the time, he vowed that the publications would become “the number one business news site in the world within five years,” under Uzabase’s ownership, according to a previous Digiday report.
The Economist’s lifestyle magazine, 1843, which was originally launched in 2007 as Intelligent Life before it was rebranded in 2016, went from a bi-monthly print magazine to a digital-only product in May. The lifestyle publication had a history of shutting down and relaunching in the past, with its most recent relaunch in 2019.
The digital version of the magazine was folded into The Economist’s site as a vertical and at the same time, 90 employees — or 7% of The Economist’s staff — were laid off, according to UK-based Press Gazette.
Bonnier (U.S. edition)
Bonnier is shaking loose its U.S. arm. The talks around exiting the U.S. were first reported in February by The Wall Street Journal and came to fruition in September when the Swedish publisher sold seven of its U.S. motorcycle magazines to fintech company Octane. Then, in the following month, it sold off seven more of its New York-based special interest magazines to a private equity firm North Equity.
A special shoutout
Though not a traditional publisher, we would be remiss to not include Quibi’s short but impactful life. The short-form video publisher came onto the scene on April 6 with a roster of 10-minute long shows featuring a splashy Hollywood cast. The company raised more than $1.75 billion from a high-profile set of investors but by October, the mobile platform fell short of its 7.4 million paid user target and subsequently shut down.
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