'TV Guide' to Adopt New Size, Print Fewer Copies

TV Guide announces plans to cut its circulation and re-launch itself as a new large-format magazine. Robert Siegel talks with David Lieberman, media reporter for USA Today.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

For almost as long as there have been television sets in American homes, there has been TV Guide. In 1953, the publication went national, with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's baby on the cover. Back in the late 1940s, there were already regional precursors, and a copy of the magazine in New York cost 15 cents. In those days, the T and the V were capitalized, but perhaps for the uninitiated, lower-cased letters completed the word `TeleVision.'

So it is a sign of the times when the venerable couch potato's little companion announces that it is making some big changes. David Lieberman of USA Today covered today's announcement, and he explains what's going to be different.

Mr. DAVID LIEBERMAN (USA Today): First of all, the size. They're getting rid of the digest-size magazine in favor of an edition that's about the same size as Time or Newsweek. And also, they're changing the content. The current magazine is about 75 percent listings and about 25 percent articles. They're going to flip that over. The new edition will be about 75 percent articles and 25 percent listings.

SIEGEL: Is the point that people are just getting their listings from their cable television service nowadays?

Mr. LIEBERMAN: I think that's part of it, absolutely. Also, it's just harder to put together a magazine that has every local listing for--you know, across the country. It was just too arduous a process.

SIEGEL: Do they actually have the personnel to put out a magazine with lots of feature articles about television?

Mr. LIEBERMAN: They say they do. As a matter of fact, they'll probably be laying off a lot of people because they won't need so many people to just administer the magazine, to get all those local listings.

SIEGEL: It's that labor-intensive just to do the listings?

Mr. LIEBERMAN: Oh, absolutely. I think they have about 140 editions.

SIEGEL: What kind of a demographic buys and reads TV Guide?

Mr. LIEBERMAN: People in their 50s would be the average age, and mostly women. And what they want to do is bring that down to--they're saying they're going to target women between the age of 35 and 55, but they want to get to the lower end of that range.

SIEGEL: Now they're competing as well with TV weekly supplements in lots of Sunday newspapers.

Mr. LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. That's been one of the big problems. At its height in the early 1970s, TV Guide had a circulation of about 20 million. Now it's down to about nine million because there's so many other places you can get that information. There are some advertisers who say that they really didn't really have much of a choice, that they had to do something dramatic. In fact, even at the company they'll tell you that they don't think it would have lasted more than 10 years.

SIEGEL: Is this a sign of things to come? That is, for example, will the stock tables, which you can access online, for example, be disappearing from daily newspapers one of these days?

Mr. LIEBERMAN: Oh, absolutely. You're already starting to see that. A lot of daily newspapers have cut back pretty dramatically the amount of stock tables that they have. So any information that you can get easier and faster and more up to date online, it doesn't make sense to have that in a print edition.

SIEGEL: Are there any publications left that are that size? I guess Jet magazine is that small size.

Mr. LIEBERMAN: Oh, and more famously, Reader's Digest.

SIEGEL: Reader's Digest.

Mr. LIEBERMAN: Reader's Digest. And, you know, at one point, Reader's Digest and TV Guide, you know, ruled the magazine business. But you know, those days are gone. The days of the mass magazine really are flying by. There's just too much fragmentation.

SIEGEL: Might they encounter any Classic Coke problem at all here? I mean, are there some people out there who have been reading and getting TV Guide for half a century and they just--they will protest at its absence or its change?

Mr. LIEBERMAN: Oh, that's a real concern, I think. You know, they're saying that they've made lots of surveys and they've tested and, you know, checked this out, and they say it'll be, you know, even better. But you never know until you actually put it out. And I'm sure there are a lot of people who are very comfortable going to the supermarket each week, seeing TV Guide in the checkout line, putting in their bag and, you know, having that comfortable size, and they'll probably wish that they had it back.

SIEGEL: Well, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. LIEBERMAN: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's David Lieberman, who covered today's announcement by TV Guide for USA Today that TV Guide is abandoning its current format in October in favor of a larger magazine with fewer listings and more stories.

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