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Thursday, 21 February 2008

New Scientist for sale

Reed Elsevier continues to flail around trying to work out how to adapt to the 21st century. From the point of view of science writers, the best news of this dithering, which has gone on for the best part of a decade, is that the company has decided to put New Scientist on the market.

New Scientist is a part of Reed Business Publishing, which also produces Farmers Weekly. The Daily Telegraph reports Sir Crispin Davis, Reed's chief executive, as saying that Reed Business Publishing's "advertising revenue model and the inherent cyclicality fit less well with the subscription-based information and workflow solutions focus of Reed Elsevier's strategy".

New Scientist and Farmers Weekly were among magazines that Reed hung on to when it sold off IPC Magazines. Reed even moved the science weekly out of its "magazines" division into its "business press" group. The magazine had previously shared management, and offices, with a raft of women's magazines, pop titles and other well know publications, including Horse & Hound and Yachting Monthly.

Now Reed seems to have realised that it does not have a clue about running magazines, with their sordid need to attract advertising, as opposed to expensive journals that just lift money out of university budgets. This should be good news for New Scientist and its fine team of writers and editors. With luck it will find a buyer who doesn't see the magazine as a money machine. It can still be that, but machines need careful oiling, or at least "benign neglect".

You can see where Reed's business is heading from the announcement that delivered news of the fate of New Scientist. The company has just paid $3.6B for a company called ChoicePoint. The story on this on says that ChoicePoint "collects, sells access to and analyzes the personal information of consumers". Reed plans to roll this acquisition into LexisNexis, its on-line information service.

Disclaimer: I spent the 1980s grappling with IPC Magazines, as editor of New Scientist. Since then, the magazine has gone from strength to strength.