Today was the first public edition of “The Sporting News Today.” This is a free, online daily version of The Sporting News, the weekly magazine that got its start as a bible for baseball fans.
The Sporting News has a rich history, starting publication in 1886. I remember my father subscribing in the 1960s. It was thick with box scores and stats for every team and every major sport. In 1977, when the Times Mirror Co bought the publisher for all of $18 million it had a circulation of about 356,000. By the time it was sold to Vulcan Ventures in 2000 for $100 million it had a circulation of over 500,000, but it was being threatened by the successful launch of ESPN Magazine, which had 850,00 circulation within two years of its 1998 launch.
The Sporting News was sold again in 2006, to American City Business Journals. Today the circulation is about 700,000, but at an annual price of only $14.97 for a new subscription—compared to about $61.00 in constant dollars in 1978.
Like many print publications, The Sporting News has been substantially affected by online content. Daily sports news has been particularly hard hit. The Internet is made for getting late night scores, accessing the scads of stats that even casual fans crave, following teams in far-off cities—and all for little or, most often, no consumer cost.
Like most other print publications, it has had an online presence. The Sporting News Today is something else though. It is a magazine formatted for the screen. But it is not like a Web site. It involves no scrolling. It is pdf-like, though it is not read with Adobe Reader. It is not the print edition read online, as with Zinio. To me each screen looked like a double page spread in a magazine—but with no need for a gutter. I sort of felt that I had spread opened the tabloid-sized magazine. You will note that each of the “double pages” has one page number.
By offering to send subscribers an email each day, readers so do not have to bookmark anything. Just click the link.
The content is vintage Sporting News: Right now heavy on baseball, but lots on football—professional and college. There is hockey, basketball, NASCAR, tennis. Even Little League World Series coverage is promised. And, with a nod to WEB 2.0, it will offer readers the opportunity to provide their own input: “You’ll get a byline, file to an editor.” (Actually, a clever spin on “Letters to the Editor.”)
No surprise, the business model for the Sporting News Today is, for the moment at least, advertising, though it was rather light for a first edition. The inaugural issue had a full page from SpeedTV.com, three half page house ads for Sporting News affiliates and a full page promotion for the revamped Sporting News magazine, which will become a bi-weekly. (Management expects to lose 100,000 circulation from current levels to the free online publication).
I’m not a design expert—I’ll leave that to my colleagues at Innovation Media Consulting Group. But the Sporting News Today will feel comfortable to readers who like the look of print and are put off by clicking here and there for do their online reading. The layout feels modern but grounded in print. How that plays may be generational—or not.
As a final note, it may be worth pointing out that while traditional print publications are downsizing, The Sporting News Today is hiring. Indeed, I got turned on to its impending launch by Charles Apple, it’s new art director, who was hired away from the Virginia Pilot newspaper. (Has anyone seen numbers on how many print journalists have been hired by online-only ventures other than self-funded blogs?)
There has been speculation in recent years on when we will get the first announcement that a daily newspaper will shut down its presses completely and switch to digital-only. There are still some big hurdles, like portability. But should services such as Amazon’s Kindle take off, allowing readers to take their digital publications on the go, then the Sporting News Today model may have legs and encourage a general interest newspaper to give it a whirl.