The graphic above shows how the New Statesman has lost ground over the last two years. With the paid-for print circulation now in the low teens of thousands it has only a quarter of the Spectator’s paid-for circulation. Online the advantage the magazine enjoyed when it was ahead of the game has now evaporated. It was at one time one of the better online political websites and despite a recent revamp it has continued to lose ground. “Why?” is the question the new owner Mike Danson must be asking himself.
There are two reasons Guido thinks* – the decline of the enthusiasm of the left as a decade of disillusion takes a heavy toll and the fact that it isn’t a very good read. Serious writers like Martin Bright and the effervescent Nick Cohen have been lost and replaced with new blood who are hardly “must read” material. Mehdi Hassan is finding his footing, James Macintyre’s articles betray his mentoring by Derek Draper, often reading like the work of a student journalist on a college newspaper. For a serious political weekly they lack serious political reporters.
The dullness quotient can be high elsewhere in the magazine. Maguire’s cheeky diary was often a work of fiction, but at least it was entertaining fiction. Peter Wilby usually has something interesting to say, Pilger is Pilger if you like that sort of thing. A lot of the rest of the stuff is worthy and boring. The Spectator is far more fun, mischievous and readable.
It is hard to see how even as canny a publisher as Danson can avoid losing money if it doesn’t change editorial course. If of course he bought it vainly for influence, fine, though even there how much influence does it have nowadays? The circulation numbers don’t lie, with a declining readership half the size of this blog’s audience, Guido thinks the announced “greater focus on photography” is unlikely to cut the mustard in Labour’s inner circles. A political weekly needs to get great political stories to succeed. When was the last time the New Statesman had a real scoop?
*Third possible reason applies to all left-wing, politically correct publications since the late sixties – it is hard to be fun when you are earnest and have to watch your words. Fun sells.