The storm clouds grew darker for the print biz Thursday as Conde Nast disclosed it would cut 5% of its staff and trim the frequencies of Portfolio and Men’s Vogue.
Advertising has declined at an accelerating clip across the media biz, and the trend has been exacerbated by this fall’s economic meltdown, forcing companies to contain costs. The harsh business realities facing the publishing and print media stand in sharp contrast to the surge of interest in coverage of the presidential race and the cultural zeitgeist.
Political books by Jane Mayer, Dexter Filkins and Jonah Goldberg, among others, have scored on the bestseller list, in contrast to the poor B.O. perf of movies with Iraq war and terrorism themes. Magazines including the Atlantic, Time and the New Republic and such newspapers as the Wall Street Journal have redesigned to showcase opinion and political news.
Chief among the factors for the uptick in interest has been the rise of Barack Obama (an author himself, fans note) and resentment of George W. Bush. Whatever its sources, it has given a lot of publishing folks, especially in Gotham, a renewed sense of purpose.
“It’s a combination of passion and outrage about what has happened over the past eight years,” said Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and author of several books. “Just as with famine in Ireland, these times have brought out a lot of great writing.”
Betsy Reed, executive editor at the Nation, who also edits Nation Books including the bestseller “Blackwater,” credits the “psychodrama” of the primary season for enlivening the long march to the White House.
“There were different factions, and people were really obsessed with it,” she said. “Roles of gender and race tapped into very deep strains of American cultural consciousness. It required a lot of thought and reflection.”
However, this renewed appetite hasn’t been enough to offset the decline in ad pages. Conde Nast, long one of the primo perches in the magazine biz thanks to marquee titles like the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, is a private company, so its financial condition is difficult to determine. But its lavishly promoted businesses are certainly not immune to a harsh climate.
Men’s Vogue will now be published just twice a year, down from 10, though its exact fate in terms of distribution and staffing is unclear. Publisher Marc Berger is ankling.
Portfolio, a closely watched recent launch with a circulation of 400,000, will slim down from 12 issues to 10 a year, with double editions covering December-January and July-August. The business book will see its total head count of 160, including business, editorial and Web, cut by 20%. The result of the cuts will be a 17% reduction in total costs.
The dismal news at Conde Nast follows word earlier in the week that Time Inc. will cut 6% of its staff, or about 600 workers, in a major realignment of business units. Instead of each title remaining autonomous in the company’s tradition, three distinct groups will be created and writers and other resources will be pooled.
Time’s 24 U.S. magazines will be grouped under news (including Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated), lifestyle (Real Simple, Cottage Living) and style and entertainment (People, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly).
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes has acknowledged the struggles of the print division, which has endured several rounds of layoffs in recent years. The goal of this current revamp is to allow some of the magazine brands to bring in revenue from sources beyond print.
It’s been a hellish couple of weeks for the print publishing sector. Radar magazine folded. Newspapers from the Los Angeles Times and the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger to the entire Gannett chain announced more deep staff cuts. The 100-year-old Christian Science-Monitor said Tuesday it would cease the daily print newspaper edition in favor of online coverage and a weekly magazine.
Of course, the ever-increasing competition from online sources is a major source of woes for the print biz. Web traffic is soaring to record levels, especially on such sites as Politico and Huffington Post.
But the written word takes many forms now, and many consider dialogue fostered online to be a close cousin of traditional print.
“People are going to stay engaged,” predicted Huffington. “There is a new sense of transparency on the Web. It’s just that the conversation is more intimate. People are learning to write online the way they wrote letters in the 19th century.”