If one desires a GRE vocabulary or dinner-party fluency in world affairs, The Economist has long been the preferred tool of self-improvement. And as we increasingly cull and buff our self-image online, the London-based status-magazine is enjoying an outsize reverberation on social media.
“People used to say, just a few years ago, you only carried The Economist on the subway to meet girls,” managing director of the Americas, Paul Rossi, told Off the Record on Monday. “Facebook is the equivalent of that today, it has a badge effect.”
According to Mr. Rossi, smart is simply cool now, a phenomenon called “mass intelligence” (coined in The Economist, naturally).
“What social media is doing has made it easier to engage with a brand you might have thought was a fairly impenetrable weekly magazine,” he said, adding that increased digital readership reflects a larger cultural mash-up of high and low, “people spending thousands on handbags and buying their jeans at the Gap, or people traveling on Southwest and staying in the Ritz.”
“When you buy an Economist at the airport the number one magazine you buy with it is US Weekly,” he admitted.
With a $127 annual subscription rate and all the de rigeur magazine side businesses (educational conferences, ebooks, etc.) The Economist is not banking on the social platform to drive breaking news traffic to its website and increase digital ad revenue. “We’re not trying to out-CNN CNN,” he said. “We’re still about analysis and commentary. We still believe that there’s a lens and that’s the value of what we do.”
“The only difference is The Economist has no bylines in print and actually online we use initials,” he said. “That’s our one concession.”
But as for whether we’re really reading that article on the eurozone—or just sharing it to impress that French chick we friended—The Economist will know soon enough. The magazine has partnered with the Pew Research Center to study reading habits of social news and on mobile devices. Not that they’re judging.
“I don’t have a problem with people engaging superficially,” Mr. Rossi said.