Time's opus on health care is a surprise hit

The wild popularity of Steven Brill's 25,000-word story shows that people still read in-depth articles that are interesting.

By Jonathan Berr Mar 18, 2013 2:03PM
Image: Insurance Money (© Comstock Images/Jupiterimages)Time Inc., Time Warner's (TWX) struggling magazine business that's being spun off to the public, recently found that a tried-but-true business model is still relevant: People read articles that are interesting even if they are 25,000 words long -- roughly 100 typewritten, double-spaced pages.

That's the length of Steven Brill's opus about health care, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing US." According to The New York Times, it's the magazine's best-selling issue in more than two years and also broke online records. In theory, this shouldn't happen in today's fractured media climate where readers have an insatiable thirst for cute cat videos and stories about misbehaving celebrities.

Current conventional wisdom holds that readers are now busier than ever and don't have the time to consume lengthy disquisitions about serious topics such as health care. That's especially true for younger readers who have grown up getting their news in easily digestible chunks on AOL's (AOL) Huffington Post and "The Daily Show." Brill, however, actually used this trend to his benefit. After talking about his article on "The Daily Show," he said he's still getting 50 emails a day from readers, many of them in their 20s.

Sadly, quality joumalism alone won't be enough to save Time Inc. As I noted in February, 'People" magazine generates almost as much advertising revenue as "Time," "Sports Illustrated" and "Fortune" combined. Let's hope that Brill's story serves as a reminder that the public is still eager to learn about more than the latest celebrity arrest. 

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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1Comment
Mar 18, 2013 4:56PM
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Who buys and reads all those specialty magazines on racks in CVS Drugs?  Men's Health, GQ, etc. 
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