NYT kills sports magazine; is USAT’s ‘OpenAir’ next?

The New York Times‘ quarterly Play magazine was more sports-focused than USA Today‘s nascent OpenAir (left), which is more about leading active lifestyles. Still, magazine launches are legendary for their high failure rates — and that’s during good times. No slouch in publishing, the NYT said yesterday that it closed Play less than three years after its February 2006 launch.

With the economy now in a tailspin, it’s hard to imagine any new magazine gaining much traction — and that assumes the publisher wields lots of experience, such as Time Inc., Hearst or Conde Nast.

USA Today, on the other hand, is a publisher with newspaper distribution channels. OpenAir, which just published its winter issue, is inserted in USAT. (Play also was an insert.) That’s probably a safer choice than trying to get a spot on already-crowded magazine sales racks, which requires doing business with independent distributors.

USA Today tried and failed to pull off rack distribution when it briefly published a consumer technology magazine in 2005, USA Today Now Personal Technology (left).

I guess USAT Publisher Craig Moon gets credit for trying different ideas. But I recall his aborted attempt to push one of Gannett’s papers into yellow pages telephone book publishing. That failed early 1990s effort at the now-shuttered Arkansas Gazette had to have cost Gannett hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, Moon’s at it again with OpenAir; its website optimistically lists four more publication dates through the end of 2009. Given the recession in advertising, how likely will we see any of them?

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