It’s been in print for more than two decades, but after September, ESPN the Magazine will cease to exist.
That’s according to a report from John Ourand at Sports Business Daily, who cites an announcement to staffers. Ourand also notes that the move won’t mean any new rounds of editorial layoffs.
The news of the print magazine’s demise was announced to staff this morning as part of a reorganization of Senior VP/Original Content Rob King’s department. ESPN says that the move will not involve any layoffs today, though it is likely that a handful of print/publishing/circulation employees — said to be in the single digits — will be without jobs come September. An ESPN spokesperson said the company already had integrated the magazine’s employees across its platforms.
It makes sense, of course; print is expensive, and even brands like Sports Illustrated are finding it difficult to compete in the marketplace. There are still successful sports publications, but most are targeted at specific sports or activities, not built around the broader idea of sports in general, or a network brand. ESPN has also placed some online editorial behind the ESPN+ paywall, which shared a subscriber base with ESPN the Magazine, so people who appreciate the content are theoretically already able to get it digitally, and could continue to do so after September.
In a statement to SBD, ESPN acknowledged the transition:
“Consumer habits are evolving rapidly, and this requires ESPN to evolve as well. The only change here is that we are moving away from printing it on paper and sending it in the mail. … Our data shows the vast majority of readers already consume our print journalism on digital platforms, and this approach will maximize our reach and impact.”
Ourand also noted that ESPN could consider publishing one-off issues, citing the Body Issue as an example, which is a hint that much like SI’s Swimsuit Issue, the one thing in print media people still might be willing to pay for is nudity. Ourand also notes that the magazine has been losing money for years, which makes sense to anyone who both understands the cost of print media and spent months and months getting free magazines in the mail after their ESPN subscription or free trial ended.
It’s obviously unfortunate for print readers, but the lack of editorial layoffs and the realities of the business make it an understandable move.