In a move that may finally help it compete with its lightning-fast digital competitors, the once-dominant entertainment trade publication announced Tuesday that it will fold its daily edition and -- much to the delight of its increasingly obscure reporters -- remove the paywall that has been sandbagging its Web traffic since 2009. Variety’s parent, Penske Media Corp., wrote in a statement that the daily print edition, launched in 1933, will publish its final issue on March 18, and a new weekly magazine will launch on March 26.
Additionally, the magazine named three editors tasked with resuscitating the long-suffering Hollywood brand. Claudia Eller, currently at the Los Angeles Times, is coming on board to manage Variety’s film coverage; Cynthia Littleton, Variety’s current deputy editor, will oversee television coverage; and Andrew Wallenstein, currently a TV editor for the magazine, will take over digital content. All three staffers will hold the title of editor-in-chief.
Penske purchased the struggling Variety in October for a bargain-basement $25 million, a fraction of the $300 millon its previous owner, Reed Elsevier, had reportedly once been offered. The owner of a slew of Hollywood and celebrity websites -- including Variety competitor Deadline.com -- Penske almost immediately began trimming staff members at the 108-year-old publication.
The demise of Variety’s paywall will be a welcome change for editorial staffers who may have felt stifled by having to write for a limited audience. Traffic for variety.com has been in steady decline for at least the last two years, according to Alexa.
The paywall was enacted with the hope that Web-dwellers still considered Variety’s content as invaluable as they did during its heyday, when the magazine was a Tinseltown must-read. But at a time when studio deal-making is catalogued on a minute-by-minute basis at websites such as Deadline and TheWrap -- and trade listings have been decentralized across portals such as IMDb and Box Office Mojo -- Variety reporters struggled to gather enough exclusive content to entice large numbers of paying readers. At the time of the Penske purchase, Variety had only about 17,000 paid digital subscribers.
In a statement, Jay Penske, CEO of Penske Media, cheekily called the paywall’s demise “the end of an error.” “It was an interesting experiment that didn’t work,” he said. “We look forward to welcoming back longtime Variety readers when the paywall drops March 1.”
In a way, Variety’s decision to jump into the abyss of traffic-based journalism mirrors a leap made by its longtime print competitor, the Hollywood Reporter, which has adapted relatively well to the digital climate. In 2010, the Reporter also axed its daily edition, re-launching as a slicker weekly magazine.
Amid dwindling print-ad revenue, Variety, like most trade magazines, has struggled to maintain its brand value in a digital marketplace. In a Tuesday morning blog post, Deadline’s founder and editor-in-chief, Nikki Finke, took credit for the trade publication’s declining relevance, writing that her Deadline Hollywood website “pretty much put it out of business.”