Should The Daily Beast absorb Newsweek.com, or vice versa?

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Things have been a little chaotic at Newsweek; things have even been more chaotic at Newsweek.com. The news last week about the merger between The Daily Beast and Newsweek has brought about an interesting digital rift now playing out on Newsweek's official Tumblr microblog, another unofficial one and, of course, on Twitter, where all good media arguments end up nowadays. Backlash was inevitable after Daily Beast Newsweek CEO Stephen Colvin stated the merged company's plans to discontinue Newsweek.com.

No surprise also that Tina Brown took to Twitter to defend herself from the charges leveled on the impromptu Tumblr site started by an anonymous Newsweek employee, saying that Newsweek.com won't simply cease to exist altogether (semantics, really), but it will be absorbed into The Daily Beast's online edition.

Both sides have solid, passionate arguments as to which online entity -- The Daily Beast or Newsweek.com -- ought to be "absorbed" into the other. Let's take a look at what they say:

The case for Newsweek.com

The argument for Newsweek.com continuing is very much based on it being good business: SEO, as well as the 77-year-old newsweekly's valuable archives are on their side. According to Compete, in September 6.2 million people viewed Newsweek's site, while only 2.2 million viewed The Daily Beast. Further, as a property, Newsweek has 1.5 million paid subscribers. And according to the Publisher's Information Bureau, despite the steep 30% drop in ad revenue in the first nine months of this year, Newsweek is still pulling in $114 million. Taking all of that into account, why should Newsweek face absorption into the two-year-old, buzzy Daily Beast and not the other way round?

Further, Mark Coatney, who used to work on Newsweek's highly acclaimed Tumblr blog before going to work for Tumblr, argues that Newsweek.com quite frankly is much leaner -- though clearly no superlative example of skinny -- than The Daily Beast. "(T)he Newsweek.com Web site has only once in its existence even spent more than $10 million in a year, and never lost more than a couple million." The Daily Beast,by contrast, loses roughly $200,000 a week.

Finally, the anonymous Newsweek.com staffer asked some very hard questions about whether Newsweek.com ought to "cease to exist." From SaveNewsweekdotcom:

If Newsweek.com should cease to exist, here’s what we wonder: What will be the ramifications for Newsweek’s Web presence in terms of SEO? For branding? For our partnerships with MSNBC and MSN? What happens to Newsweek’s (still-unleveraged) archives? How do you preserve a “national treasure” (as Harman has called it) without a Web presence bearing its name?

By rolling Newsweek.com into The Daily Beast, the hope—at least according to the Times—would be to absorb the some of the 5 million unique visitors Newsweek clocks each month. But at least 60 percent of those visitors come in through the back door, through Newsweek’s partnership with MSNBC, links on MSN, Newsweek’s Twitter feed, its Tumblr, and elsewhere. If less than half of Newsweek readers log onto Newsweek.com’s actual homepage, how much traffic will really be gained? Certainly not five million uniques.

The case for The Daily Beast

AdAge's Matt Creamer makes a strong opposing argument that The Daily Beast's position isn't quite as unreasonable as the many online critics make it sound. Despite having a smaller aggregate audience, according to Quantcast, The Daily Beast more closely resembles Gawker Media than rival newsweekly Time with regards to audicence stickiness. The Daily Beast also has about three times the number of pages indexed by Google as Newsweek does.

Further, The Daily Beast is, arguably, the better, more vibrant web product. Their average reader is younger. The Daily Beast also does social media better than Newsweek. Their email newsletter is supremely well executed (I actually look forward to it). And -- last but not least -- Newsweek lost $40 million in 2009.

All argument about the company is good argument

However this ends, the public argument is ultimately a good thing for The Daily Beast-Newsweek merger. As is evident on their Tumblr site, Newsweek is not averse to keeping this conversation alive. It keeps their name in the news, it keeps us talking about the merger and it is good for the print edition and their online brand.

Newsweek, when in the course of finding a publisher and editor, once squelched a very clever editor audition video, prematurely ending a strategically beneficial conversation that was going on among the chattering classes (up to then, the first good news for Newsweek in a while). Sidney Harman and a veteran like Tina Brown are not likely, at least not now, to err on the side of caution. 

You cannot buy this kind of publicity. Whether they do decide to cave in to social media and online pressure and let Newsweek live, or go ahead and absorb the 77-year-old newsweekly into the growling gullet of The Daily Beast, the conversation will have played itself out fully in public. And that, in this digital age, is probably more of a plus than a minus, all things considered.

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