Monday, February 2, 2009

Things So Bad at Magazines - Even Conde Nast in Retreat

The New York Times - “The September Issue,” a documentary about how the staff of Vogue puts together that curio of profligacy, the magazine’s fall preview, was a big hit at the recent Sundance Film Festival. Part of the reason attendees found it so mesmerizing has to do with Anna Wintour, who always begets staring.

But much of its appeal has to do with the fact that any peek inside the Death Star, as the headquarters of Vogue’s publisher, Condé Nast, is affectionately known, is going to be met with prurient interest.

Home to magazines like Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair and the gossamer creatures who produce them, the building is surrounded by a phalanx of idling black cars and decorated with fables about discarded six-figure photo shoots and editors who FedEx-ed their luggage ahead of them so as not be burdened on the commute.

But in a week when the news came that the gross domestic product shrank 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter, even the Death Star feels the pull of economic gravity. Domino, a shelter magazine for smart young things that was first published in 2005, was closed just two weeks after the company put Bill Wackerman, one of its most prized executives, in charge of turning it around.

Company executives, none of whom wanted to be quoted, said that the complete implosion of ads made it impossible to continue, although it doubled its estimate of Domino readers to 850,000 and was generally well received.

The loss of a single magazine would seem like small beer, but when the belt being tightened is Chanel, it seems all the scarier. If those people are under the gun, what is to become of everybody else in the media business?

Historically, Si Newhouse, the company chairman, had demonstrated legendary patience in bringing along its magazines. The New Yorker lost money for almost 18 years at Condé Nast — the burn rate was ferocious as Tina Brown sought to reinvent the fustian title — but it eventually went into the black and created a lustrous editorial asset for the company.

But when the current editor, David Remnick, ordered up a bunch of articles for the magazine’s formidable presidential inauguration issue, some of the reporters drove to Washington and stayed at friends’ houses. Mr. Remnick, who was among those who bunked with a friend in Washington, declined comment, beyond suggesting it was just common sense to preserve assets for other articles. “Steve Coll can’t stay at a friend’s house in Afghanistan,” he said.

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