MONEY WOES: Dow Jones & Co. is folding the print edition of SmartMoney, a 20-year-old personal finance magazine that had been hailed as one of the company’s early successful magazine launches. The company will spin off the name as a stand-alone Web site under its MarketWatch umbrella.
The print edition’s 25 staffers, including editor in chief Jonathan Dahl, will be let go. All would have to reapply for open positions at smartmoney.com, which will add nine digital positions, or within Dow Jones.
This story first appeared in the June 22, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
On Thursday, Dahl, a 28-year veteran of the company, didn’t know what his future held. “I’m exploring my options inside the paper and outside,” he said.
SmartMoney’s September issue, on newsstands Aug. 14, is its last. Though the magazine had gotten a significant investment from Dow Jones in the past two years, the closing was widely anticipated. For starters, advertisers had not flocked back since the financial crash, and an early supporter, Dow Jones president Todd Larsen, stepped down earlier this week.
“I don’t think people were surprised. It’s been a tough market for a while,” Dahl said. “But it’s always a shock.”
Dahl and Dow Jones editor in chief Robert Thomson led a meeting with staff at 2 p.m. Thursday; Dow Jones released a statement shortly thereafter.
Thomson said the transition to digital would allow SmartMoney to keep up with an insatiable news cycle. “It’s clear that the volatility of markets and asset classes has increased the need for rapid delivery of personal finance intelligence, so we will be expanding our team and presence on the Web,” he said in a statement.
SmartMoney wasn’t initially conceived for around-the-clock analysis, but to provide personal finance advice and compete with Dow Jones’ publishing rivals, like Money magazine.
It was launched in 1992 as a partnership between Dow Jones and Hearst Corp., the first time two publishing giants collaborated on a new magazine. Norman Pearlstine, the chief content officer at Bloomberg LP, who was then executive editor of The Wall Street Journal, sought out Hearst because it had a consistent track record with money magazines. Pearlstine declined comment Thursday.
They also saw an opportunity in an ascendant market, Dahl said.
Though it never reached Money’s circulation — it had an average of 815,000 readers through December, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations — it performed well for several years. Founding publisher David Carey, now president of Hearst’s magazine division, counts it as one of his early successes.
Originally published every two months, SmartMoney eventually went monthly and collected three National Magazine Awards.
Like many other financial magazines — Money included — advertising pages and revenue began to decline in 2007 — it had about 343 ad pages in 2011, down 52 percent from a peak of over 700 pages in 2007, according to Media Industry Newsletter.
Still, Dow Jones, under the direction of president Larsen, redoubled its commitment two years ago and bought out Hearst’s remaining 50 percent stake.
The magazine also underwent a redesign that emphasized longer features and a more graphic look.
But the magazine never recovered from the impact of the recession, Dahl said. And competition was fierce, not just from traditional rivals, like Money and Kiplinger’s, but an overabundance of personal finance writers.
“In some ways, it’s one of the most competitive fields,” Dahl said. “Everybody and their brother has a personal finance department or columnist.”
The struggling magazine’s closing also coincided with the departure of Larsen, who stepped down earlier this week. Dahl said he was sorry to see Larsen go, but that he didn’t see a connection with SmartMoney’s folding. He said Thomson was a strong supporter as well.
Dahl said it was the market that claimed the magazine’s death. Year to year, the magazine has dropped 9 percent in ad pages, according to MIN. Ad pages dropped 17 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the Association of Magazine Media.
“It’s a tough market. We needed more time to develop and probably a better economy,” Dahl said. “It was hard to sell it and make a lot of money. There are a lot of advertising dollars out there, but it’s been divided up.”
Smartmoney.com will be its own domain and will also be added to a new, co-branded personal finance section on Marketwatch.com. The new digital team will report to Raju Narisetti, Wall Street Journal Digital Network managing editor.