Over the past five years, Newsweek stumbled through three ownership changes, an ill-fated merger with the Daily Beast and a departure from print after 80 years on the newsstand. The once-vaunted title was near the edge of extinction.
Now, it's trying for a revival. The magazine is profitable again, and on Thursday it will relaunch a print edition in Asia, making it available around the world after limited returns to print in Europe and the U.S. last year.
"It is a great step for us in becoming a global magazine again," said Etienne Uzac, the co-founder and CEO of IBT Media, the closely held digital publisher that bought Newsweekin late 2013 from Daily Beast-owner IAC/InterActive Corp.
In returning to print, the weekly has sought a foothold by taking more opinionated positions and focusing on analysis. In the U.S., Mr. Uzac says Newsweek has about 100,000 print readers with about 70,000 more in Europe. The magazine's circulation isn't independently audited. The initial print run in Asia will be 30,000 copies, bringing total global circulation to around 200,000.
That is a far cry from the magazine's heyday. In 2003 it sold four million copies around the world and employed several hundred reporters. Now there are about 60 staffers. Newsweek is unlikely to reclaim the position it once held as a major arbiter of news found in waiting rooms at dentist offices.
"This is a niche formula. You could never call the Newsweek of today a general interest news magazine, but it is a formula for the future," said Samir Husni, head of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. The question, he said, is if the business model Mr. Uzac pursues is sustainable.
The cover price now is $7.99 and a year's subscription is $99.99 (up from $4.99 and $29.99, respectively, when IAC pulled the plug on print in 2012). Mr. Uzac said the publication turns a profit. He declined to disclose the company's 2014 revenue, but said it jumped by 50% compared to 2013.
Mr. Uzac said that when IBT took over, virtually all revenue came from licensing deals for local language editions abroad. Now, about 30% comes from advertising. With its Asia push, the company hopes to draw advertisers looking for an established brand through which to reach readers in China and other fast-growing markets. Ad agencies, however, say ad spending in Asia is expected to slow as the technology gap with more mature markets narrows.
Newsweek also has gained ground online. Its monthly unique visitors jumped to 3 million in February from 436,000 a year earlier, according to analytics firm comScore Inc. That is still a tiny fraction of the traffic of major online news destinations like the Huffington Post, which averages over 100 million monthly visitors.
Newsweek's signs of life follow several rocky years. Between 2002 and 2012, ad pages dropped 60%-almost double the overall decline across consumer magazines, according to the Publisher's Information Bureau. Its U.S. circulation dropped to 1.5 million from 3.3 million in the same period as younger readers gravitated to online news outlets.
In 2010, the Washington Post sold Newsweek for $1 to audio-equipment tycoon Sidney Harman, who moved to meld it with IAC's the Daily Beastunder the editorship of Tina Brown. Mr. Harman died a year later and IAC took over and closed the print edition. But after failing to turn it around, IAC chief Barry Diller called the experiment a "mistake" and what was left of the magazine was sold.
While the split has resulted in Newsweek showing signs of recovery, it also seems to have been positive for the Daily Beast. In February, the site had 12.7 million unique viewers, up 19% on the year. The site will likely approach profitability this year, a person familiar with the matter said.
"There is no question we have been able to grow aggressively in the wake of Newsweek," said Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief John Avlon.