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Harvard Business Review: a giant broadens its appeal

By David R. FrancisBusiness editor of The Christian Science Monitor / August 9, 1983


''The Harvard Business Review is a giant, and all the rest of us are midgets.'' James O'Toole, editor of a magazine just launched by the Graduate School of Business Administration of the University of Southern California, was grumbling a bit about the chief competition. His New Management magazine, he figures, will find a niche between Fortune magazine and the Review.

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But it may difficult to nudge in. The Wharton School of Business and Finance of the University of Pennsylvania attempted to produce a quarterly business publication to compete with the Harvard Business Review (HBR), but about a year ago it went out of business after losing considerable money.

Other business schools turn out publications. But they are primarily scholarly, or they are aimed mostly at the alumni, or they are slick money losers aimed at giving their schools prestige.

None of them match the Review, with its circulation of about 240,000 executives (82 percent), professionals (10 percent), academics (4 percent), and others, its attraction to advertisers (381 pages at an average of about $5,000 apiece last year), and its high profitability (it indirectly covers a lot of subsidies for doctoral students).

Mr. O'Toole may charge that the Review is ''stodgy,'' that most subscribers read less than one of its lengthy articles per issue. But as he also says, the Review is an ''institution.'' Business executives or consultants consider it prestigious to have it grace some reception table - and even more, to have an article published in it. Many a consultant has built his reputation and business on an HBR article.

The readers must also find the 61-year-old Review useful, however. Circulation was 167,000 in 1975, considerably less than today. Readers buy some 2.3 million reprints of individual articles per year ($1 each, or less for volume orders), plus tens of thousands of books of reprints on various topics. Many of the articles have a ''long shelf-life'' - they remain useful for years to managers.

An idea of the Review's content can be gained from some titles in the latest issue of the six-times-per-year publication: ''Managing for efficiency, managing for equity''; ''The information archipelago - governing the new world''; ''End-game strategies for declining industries''; ''The plant after next''; and ''Antitrust risk analysis for marketers.''

Such articles are 6,000 to 8,000 words long, and they are written mostly by amateur authors - although usually experts (academics or professional executives) in some side of management. That means, notes Timothy Blodgett, one of two senior editors, that most of the articles are rewritten once, twice, or even more. The authors are paid a mere $500 for a full-length article - ''not much for the hoops we make our authors jump through,'' Mr. Blodgett admits. ''The fact that we are prestigious helps. They want to get published.''