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August 04, 2004

Is Fast Company Still Fast?

fc_issue_5I’m an unabashed Fast Company evangelist.

My devotion began with the October|November 1996 issue. Never before, and never since, has a business magazine spoken to me as Fast Company did and still does. Instead of focusing on the dry, impersonal, and corporate side of business, Fast Company presents business in a vibrant, personal, and optimistic light.

But is Fast Company still fast?

I’ll admit there was a time (post dot-com meltdown and pre-John Byrne becoming editor-in-chief) where Fast Company seemed to lose its way. The articles lacked the zip and relevance they once had. And, the design of the magazine became too slick and too sterile.

However, I believe Fast Company is getting back on track and regaining more velocity with each issue under John Byrne. To me, Fast Company is still fast and I still look forward to inhaling the latest issue as fast as Kobayashi inhales Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs.

But, according to a recent Media Life survey, media buyers and media planners believe Fast Company has lost its focus/relevance and Gruner+Jahr, its publisher, should strongly consider pruning Fast Company from its roster of titles. Media Life reports since January 2004, Fast Company has experienced a 27% decline in ad pages and a 3% drop in newsstand circulation.

Also included in the survey was an opened-ended question where media buyers and planners responded by saying:

  • “Fold Fast Company into Inc.”
  • “Those at Fast Company have had over three years to fix what’s wrong but can’t seem to do it. Four publishers and four marketing directors in three years is not a good sign.”
  • "Close Fast Company immediately. The magazine has no focus in a very competitive marketplace. It’s a rudderless ship. Its relevance is highly questionable … they have limited and declining credibility in the media marketplace.”
  • What do you think? Is Fast Company still fast? If not … then, what should Fast Company do next?

    As for me, I’m looking forward to my next issue, the one after that, and after that ...

    [Thanks to adrants for this tasty tidbit.]

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    Comments

    I stopped my subscription to FC last year. These days I only (on the business side) subscribe to Business 2.0. I also have subscriptions to Wired, InfoWeek, Security Weekly, and Storage Weekly.

    But yeah, everything I'd want from FC I was realising I was getting weeks earlier from blogs.

    Okay... so we're the customer, right? The reader.

    Fast Company seems like a pretty transparent company. Most likely if they practice what they preach, they'd be willing to solicit input from their readership as to what to Stop, Start or Continue.

    How do we make this happen? If they need to change, how do we help?

    Right now I only subscribe to Business 2.0 and Fast Company (boy have I pruned down my subscriptions) and get everything else I need via Web or word-of-mouth. Been an FC subscriber since issue #1.

    I'm not into FC as I once was - I would have a difficult time quantifying what exactly is missing but it just doesn't speak to me anymore - but when it started was unquestionably very different and I adored the magazine. It never was like Inc. and still isn't - so I guess it just shows that its parent doesn't understand it. Interesting that Worthwhile magazine is set to launch amidst all this.

    FC may have lost its focus, but I never thought FC was solely about 'fast companies' - a lot of it was pretty radically heartfelt - and personal as you mention - "work is making love visible" kind of stuff. It hasn't lost its relevance, but maybe it's lost its way.

    I've read FC since the beginning.
    What's wrong with it.
    1. There is now a growing political bias to the reporting. Before John Byre, it was missing. You could see it in individual contributors. Now I can see it in the editorial choices. If I want bias, I'll read the NYTimes or National Review.

    2. When FC began, we were at the beginning of the dramatic growth brought on by technology and the opening of global markets. Today, the changes are more subtle and not moving in a clearly identifiable direction. The war/police action/ litigation on terrorism is having its impact.

    3. When FC began, people were looking for something new. Today, we have plenty of new, what we want is...humm...less cleverness, and more reality, more honesty, less spin, more groundedness,less demagogery.

    4. Finally, all the ancillary enterprises, the conferences, the Company of Friends networks, etc., I think ended up either being a distraction or a dilution of the magazine's focus. I went to one COF event. It was great. But it didn't link me more directly to the magazine. The magazine was hardly mentioned. In someways, trying to establish a national network of cells is like federalizing local trash pick-up. It just doesn't make sense.

    FC 2004 can't be FC 1996. It has to grow up and find a new edge to exploit.

    Well I guess I'll be a dissenter because I really like Fast Company. It has a completely different take on business than the same old P&L stuff, and it's sorely needed. It's not Fortune, Forbes, Inc. or Businessweek, and that's what is good about it. I like the stories about companies that do things differently. I like stories about companies participating in their communities, treating their employees well, etc. I like when they call BS on annual reports, and company meetings, and the silliness that goes on in much of corporate America. Granted I don't agree with every story, but I still find myself enjoying it. Perhaps they are just a niche magazine, but it's a niche that a lot of people are interested in.

    They are actually sponsoring a brand-makeover contest where one of the choices is Fast Company.

    I stopped reading their blog just because it became so 'noisy', especially with the biz-book thing. The maagazine I still like, but it sits around waiting to be read instead of being gobbled up.

    I just got a mailer from FC to resubscribe for two years for twelve bucks. Are we desperate?

    Just spoke to a friend I ran into at the bookstore about this post as he doesn't read blogs. I know he is an FC fan. Like me, he was absolutely magnetized by the first issue and had been a devoted fan since its inception. He told me he just dropped his subscription recently. I didn't mention my viewpoint at all and asked why? We don't think THAT much alike and it floored me when he said: "It just doesn't speak to me anymore." He says it's not him that's lost interest but something about the magazine has changed and he quite put a finger on it.

    I have been an avid, loyal and evangelistic FC reader since its 2nd year of existence. I used to like FC so much that I purchased 2 subscriptions--1 to read and keep, 1 to share with newbies. I'm not going to analyze what's wrong with FC; instead I'm going to respond to your question.

    Fast Company is not even close to the magazine it used to be. It's thin, trendy and irrelevant. Never is FC on the very tip of what's new or what's next.

    Wired and Business 2.0 have blown FC's door off.

    I vote with my dollars. FC will no longer enjoy the revenues from my two subscriptions. I've moved on.

    Skip Lineberg

    My subscription to Fast Company ended awhile ago...can't even remember exactly when. I chose not to renew because I have been more focused on Business 2.0 and Inc, as well as Entrepreneur. So far, since letting my subscription lapse, Fast Company has not seen fit to try and convince me to renew. I guess one less customer doesn't matter. If I get a renewal notice, or an invitation to subscribe within the next month or so, I might give it another chance. But, as time goes on...it becomes less and less important by virtue of being invisible...an occurence it brought upon itself by ignoring me when I did not renew.

    As a old FC'er and former CoF co-coordinator I can say I'm a fan without having a paper subscription.

    That being said, if I had to choose what is wrong with the magazine, overall, I would say "they loss touch with bottom line reality." (Or maybe never had it?)

    FC is like going to weekend seminar for Landmark. You are nervous at first, break down in front of complete strangers purging your most painful failures, receiving comfort and many hugs that in turn gives you a high that is higher then high. You walk out 3 days later "King of the world." Two weeks later you're "Prince of the world!" In four weeks "Duke of the Warwick?" and by the time the third month rolls around you realize you are and always were ...a surf.

    All talk and no tangible real world application (and new insights) makes a surf just a blubbering fool.

    I just don't seem to get any usable information from the articles as I once did. I think this is a great time for FC to hone in develop their long term strategy. It's almost as if they are on a brink of exploding or imploding.

    Which reminds me what ever happened to F*cked Company?

    Loved FC in the beginning because they were different and you got a lot of story/info for the buck.

    -Anyone else remember the facts that used to wind around the pages?

    Then the mag seemed to sell out - literally - the stories got skimpier as the ads multiplied. Unfortunately the magazine that was a great rebellious upstart got too mature and too bland.

    In all fairness it has improved but even now I rarely find more than an article or two per issue that really grabs me (if that -which is a far cry from the early days when it was a cover to cover read).

    Business 2.0 is far better than FC but I think it could make a comeback if it went back to being a totally fresh and different upstart mag.

    The very fact that they'd even think of rolling it into INC. says how far (?) it's come/gone since inception.

    I agree, Business 2.0 has far surpassed Fast Company. The last couple of months I have not looked forward to my Fast Company coming in the mail. The articles have become dull and seem stretching to find a story. Ever since Seth Godin started his blog, his column has vanished in Fast Company. He is occasionally there, but they have lacked their punch.

    Business 2.0 is doing it right. Frsh articles , with a clear target market.

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