“ROI” And The Demise Of “Popular Science” Magazine

Barry Gander
11 min readDec 2, 2023

An historic publication succumbs to an unearned ‘Return On Investment’ decision

Popular Science magazine — affectionately known as PopSci — has just shut its doors.

It evidently did not make a sufficient return on investment (RIO) for people whose mission is money. It had been viewed as a cash-cow, instead of a milk-cow that gave a more modest return over time.

In its 151-year history it had featured articles by Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur and Isaac Asimov.

At this stage in its social evolution, PopSci had advanced to being — and meaning — more than a revenue-generating device. It was an icon of American — in fact, world — technological advancement…a centerpiece for explaining the benefits of science to humanity.

It is understandable that in its original form as a print publication it was in danger due to costs of material and distribution. This means, in passing, that in a generation or so the words “he’s been on the cover of magazines” will carry no meaning. Kids will look puzzled; another “Dad Moment”. But online, a person can get millions of views a day. So the dynamic of the story is still strong; it is the medium that moved.

Instead of being a valued icon, PopSci was treated instead as a commodity by its new owners, Recurrent Ventures, a private-equity-backed digital media company. It cut staff across several editorial brands, affecting more than PopSci. The layoffs came just a few weeks after the company switched its CEO, removing Alex Vargas as the company’s top executive and elevating cofounder Andrew Perlman to the role. Perlman said his strategy would be to focus on video going forward and get rid of “unnecessary complexities” and “drive efficiency.”

The same way Elon Musk drove efficiency at X-formerly-known-as-Twitter by going “hardcore”. No one to this day know what that means, but the company is close to extinction. When that finally happens, Musk will claim that he meant to do it all along — because he can’t admit that he had no idea what he was doing when he fired 6,000 of the 8,000-person staff.

The termination of the online magazine, like the termination of the print magazine earlier, was “necessary to ensure we remain profitable and are in…

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Barry Gander

A Canadian from Connecticut: 2 strikes against me! I'm a top writer, looking for the Meaning under the headlines. Follow me on Mastodon @Barry