The printed word is dead, we are often told. It is certainly having a hard time in national and regional newspapers, nearly all of which have been losing sales at a dramatic rate. But the printed word in magazines is in a much happier state.
ABC figures for the period July to December 2009 admittedly do not show a uniformly good picture. Some sectors such as men's magazines remain weak. In other areas a few individual titles are doing very badly: Reader's Digest lost 22.8 per cent of its sales year-on-year. Still, 33 out of the 100 best selling magazines recorded an increase in circulation over the same period in 2008. That's not bad during the pit of a recession, and it represents a far better performance than that of newspapers.
Why the difference? There are a variety of reasons. Successful glossy magazines have high production values which cannot be replicated on the web. Non-glossy magazines have not put themselves free on the web, and therefore, unlike newspapers, have not sacrificed paying customers. Magazines tend to offer a longer, more leisurely read that is more suited to the printed word than the computer screen.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these ABC figures is the comparative success of more serious publications. Whereas British quality newspapers are all faring pretty miserably, many quality magazines are doing well. The Week, which offers a weekly digest of the news, was up 9.8 per cent year-on-year to a new record, attracting readers who no longer have the time or inclination to read a regular newspaper. The Economist continues to advance, albeit at a slower pace, increasing its weekly circulation by 1.2 per cent to 189,201. Worldwide it sells an amazing 1.4 million. Meanwhile, the fortnightly satirical magazine Private Eye sold an average of 210,218 during the period July to December 2009, an increase of 3.4 per cent year-on-year, and its highest figure since 1992. It has a loyal, probably largely middle-aged, readership, and sensibly resisted the lunatic suggestion that it should put itself on the web. The Oldie, edited by the Eye's former editor Richard Ingrams, had a monthly average of 35,965, an increase of 14.6 per cent, and an all-time high. A new, more professional management is succeeding in attracting new readers to what has long been a brilliant magazine.
Several other upmarket publications also put on sales, including MoneyWeek and the monthly periodical Prospect, which is under new ownership. Two famous magazines bucked the trend, though. The weekly New Statesman did not post a figure, presumably because it would not have been a very good one. The Spectator, which has been inching ahead for as long as I can remember, lost 8.9 per cent of its circulation, recording a figure 70,300. This is quite a setback. The magazine has slightly lost its way, and it is still too early to say whether it has found it again under its new editor, Fraser Nelson, who replaced Matthew d'Ancona last August.
Whereas in the newspaper world there is structural decline, with nearly the whole market heading gently southwards, in the magazine world there are titles performing well and titles performing badly. Given all that has been said and written about the decline of the printed word, who can resist a flutter of pleasure that some grown-up magazines should be flourishing?
Corrupt and in jail but cop still has his friends in the media
When 12 good men and true find a person guilty of a crime, and that person is sent to prison by a judge, it is customary for the media to report the verdict without cavil. Questions are sometimes raised later, but not usually as soon as the accused is led from the dock.
The case of Commander Ali Dizaei was an exception. In spite of many previous accusations of corruption, the Iranian-born policeman has had enthusiastic supporters in the media who have perhaps credulously accepted his contention that he has been a perennial victim of institutional racism. Some of these people were unwilling to accept Mr Dizaei's conviction last week for corruption offences.
The presenter of Channel 4 News, Jon Snow, behaved as though the policeman was a prisoner of conscience. He asked Nick Hardwick of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which had conducted the inquiry into Mr Dizaei's corrupt practices: "Are you convinced that Ali Dizaei got a completely fair hearing?" On two further occasions during the interview he asked whether Mr Dizaei had been unjustly victimised. Mr Hardwick, by the way, is a man of commendable enlightenment.
There was a strong residual sympathy for the corrupt policeman in a news story by Vikram Dodd in The Guardian. Mr Dizaei was described as "the most famous scalp obtained by a body [the IPCC] that has faced questions about its effectiveness." His remarks to The Guardian before his sentence were quoted at length. He was not going to be bullied out of a job, and he accused the IPCC and the Crown Prosecution Service of "a purely personal vendetta". These allegations from a convicted man were repeated in the article without challenge.
I doubt Mr Dizaei has been subjected to much institutional racism but some of his supporters may suffer from institutional bias.
Andrew’s dream of a new Wall Street might be a mirage
The financial journalist Jeff Randall is not someone over whose eyes wool can easily be pulled, and during a recent jaunt to Dubai he did not suspend his customary sense of vigilance. In a "Dubai Notebook" in this week's Spectator, Mr Randall reports that the city state's debt may be twice the official figure, and suggests that a $20bn bailout organised by neighbouring Abu Dhabi "will be nowhere near enough."
His scepticism contrasts with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of Andrew Neil, chief executive of The Spectator. In an article in The Observer last April – several months before the extent of Dubai's problems became apparent – Mr Neil described his own foray to the city state, and prophesied a rosy future. In spite of suffering from the recession, Dubai was in his estimation likely to emerge from it before Britain, and he suspected it "would soon resume its course to be the New York of the 21st century."
Mmm. We'll see. Mr Neil is an outstanding interpreter of politics, but when he turns to finance my instinct is to run for the hills.