Not a Cat

April 28, 2008 by Thad McIlroy

Given its stuffy name, The Economist, and its stuffy image as a turgid journal featuring dry analysis of economics and politics, I find this publication a remarkable source of data for many of the entries on this site. Being The Economist it is generally authoritative without being windy. Economist writers (never identified with a byline to an article) are the cream of the crop, and it soon becomes obvious that they combine the right balance of education, knowledge and judgment with well-researched facts and figures to produce timely articles often as short as a page, and sometimes as long as several. (I should mention that they can also surprise the reader with a very dry wit.)

Part of what makes The Economist seem standoffish is the price: the cheapest online-only one-year subscription is $80; print and online jumps the price past $100/year.

Apparently an excellent magazine, one that knows its audience and delivers consistently, can still be a roaring success. The latest figures I can find are for the six months ended September 30, 2007. Circulation increased 11% to over 1.2 million copies (and remember, this is a weekly!). Electronic advertising revenue increased 15%, as monthly users increased 39% (reaching 2.6 million), contributing to a 25% increase in operating profits.

How do you like them apples, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report (each hit recently by troubling circulation and/or financial news)?

Today I stumbled on an online-only article (available to non-subscribers) called “Finding the right picture: Engineers are making progress with the old problem of getting computers to recognize what they are looking at.” In the lede the problem is explained: “To a microprocessor, a photograph of James Bond might as well depict a cat in a tree.” The article goes on to explain recent research underway designed to overcome this challenge.

Why I love The Economist is made clear in part from the accompanying illustration and caption:

Not-a-cat.jpg

Image and caption copyright 2008, The Economist.

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