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Condé Nast CEO: No More Magazine Closures

Chuck Townsend says remaining titles have strong potential for long-term growth.


Jason Fell By Jason Fell
10/06/2009 -09:55 AM






Ever since Condé Nast hired consultants McKinsey & Co. this summer to help the big consumer magazine publisher rethink its business strategy, news trickled out about all of the dramatic changes that were unfolding.

At first the changes seemed, well, trivial. The stocks of Poland Spring bottles vanished. Weekly deliveries of company-bought fresh flowers on editors’ and publishers’ desks disappeared. Vanity Fair chief editor Graydon Carter was seen—gaspeating in the cafeteria.

More recently, reports speculated that some Condé managers would be told to reduce their budgets by roughly 25 percent. Some magazines would be folded. Then, reportedly, they wouldn’t fold.

But yesterday, a few weeks after the McKinsey consultants were said to have wrapped up their report, the big bomb dropped at 4 Times Square: Condé Nast shuttered Gourmet, Cookie, Elegant Bride and Modern Bride. The news, especially in regard to Gourmet, sent shockwaves around the industry that spilled over into the mainstream media. Roughly 180 people lost their jobs.

Monday evening, I spoke with Condé Nast president and CEO Chuck Townsend over e-mail about the magazine closings. He said the McKinsey consultants weren’t tasked with determining which magazines to shut down, but rather to concentrate on the “businesses with the strongest potential for growth for the long term.” In regard to Gourmet—which launched in 1941 and was acquired by Condé Nast in the early 1980s—Townsend said it had less potential for strength and long-term growth than its sister food title, Bon Appetit.

Editorial content aside, I think it made some sense, from a business standpoint, to close those affected magazines. Townsend said the company will reinvest the money it saves from no longer publishing the titles into its remaining magazine products.

More Closures/Cutbacks to Come?

But couldn’t there be additional targets for closure? Fashion title W, with a 450,000 rate base, saw ad pages plummet 44.2 percent during the first half, according to PIB figures. Architectural Digest (800,000 rate base) saw pages fall 49.5 percent, pages decreased 47.6 percent at Wired (700,000 rate base) and Condé Nast Traveler (800,000 rate base) saw a 42.4 percent drop. Details (450,000 rate base), which shares some of its market with sister Condé title GQ (875,000 rate base) saw pages fall 37.3 percent during the period. Although it carries a 1 million rate base, Teen Vogue saw ad pages drop 40.8 percent.

Despite those steep losses, Townsend said he is convinced the titles are still “strong contributing businesses to our company.” When asked if any more Condé Nast magazines will be closed, Townsend’s simple answer was “no.”

That’s some good news for the paranoid (and rightly so) Condé Nast staffers. However, if the speculation is right, more cutbacks are coming, and could roll out in waves over the next several months. Unfortunately, Townsend declined to tell me about any of those pending changes.

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