The Biggest Launch of the Year, Also the Quietest
The long-awaited new business magazine from Conde Nast hits newsstands in the center of the consumer magazine universe (also known as New York City) Monday, April 16 and will debut nationwide on Tuesday, April 24.
But what the new magazine will look like and the nature of its content is still a mystery.
Billed as a business publication with big, bold articles and dynamic visuals, Portfolio is not only the biggest launch of the year, it’s also the most mysterious. What is this magazine all about? Who will it compete with? Conde Nast is mum.
Despite the big bankroll (sources say close to $100 million is being spent on the launch) and brand recognition that comes with being a Conde Nast brand, there’s been no fanfare surrounding this launch. The marketing strategy is extremely low-key. There’s no grandiose launch party planned, just a small party for staffers to celebrate the first issue. And the Web site is nondescript, carrying just a handful of stories, available only to subscribers of the magazine. Even a Yahoo search for the publication using the keywords "portfolio" and "magazine" brings the Web site up in a disappointing 8th place.
Why so quiet? "I do make the assumption that it’s a deliberate marketing effort to build interest in the magazine," said publishing consultant and blogger Paul Conley. "Perhaps, it’s an unusual way to build interest. But it’s worked in some ways."
Conley’s right. The magazine has got people talking and newspapers, magazines and bloggers are pouncing on even smallest tidbit of information to trickle out of 4 Times Square. "Have you heard about the latest hire?"
Here’s what we do know about Portfolio:
- Though the first issue will debut this month, the second issue will not come out until September.
- It will open with a ratebase of 300,000. The ratebase will increase to 350,000 in September.
- A new and presumably better Web site will launch the same day that the magazine hits newsstands.
Added Portfolio spokeswoman Naomi Starkman, "Portfolio promises to deliver engaging and in-depth investigative business journalism. Business is exciting and fun, as business journalism should be. The content will be bold, informative, and thoughtful and the visuals dynamic. The magazine will investigate important business trends, profile industry leaders, and report breaking news that matters."
Samir Husni, chairman of the Department of Journalism at the University of Mississippi, said Conde Nast used a similar strategy when it launched Domino in 2005. "They really don’t need to generate any buzz because the audience they intend to reach, they’ve already reached through direct mail and they’ve run focus groups," he said. "Because they are releasing one issue and waiting, they’ll have four months to build on the momentum before the second magazine comes out."
Here Comes the Firing Squad
The magazine itself may be a mystery, but one thing is for sure, everyone will be gunning for Portfolio when it launches. "It’s just the mere idea that a major company is launching a major magazine that has everyone getting their firing squads out," said Husni. "They’re setting themselves up for major scrutiny from the media industry."
Conley said it’s not enough for Conde Nast to release a high-quality magazine, the concept needs to be different. "It’s a vicious business," he said. "It’s not like 20 or 30 years ago when there were a handful of unbeatable titles like Forbes and Fortune and Businessweek. There are a lot of titles competing in the same space and some have closed. But I don’t think Conde Nast makes the assumption that they’re going to pull readers away from existing books. I think that they think there’s a new market out there and that’s what they’re trying to capture."
Preparing for Portfolio
Business magazines may not admit it, but most have been gearing up for the launch of Portfolio. In recent months, new editors have been hired at Fortune (which is rumored to be working on a redesign) and Newsweek, and Forbes is said to be contemplating the launch of new women’s business magazine or supplement.
And Portfolio has prepared for its competitors, hiring away seasoned journalists from publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Time.
Fast Company also has a new editor. Bob Safien, the former number two editor at Fortune, became the publication’s editor and managing director in February. "Any business magazine that says they’re not paying attention to the launch of Portfolio is lying," said Safien. "I’m eager to see what Portfolio has in it. And my first issue comes out at the same time and at the same time as the Fortune 500. So I’m putting a little more attention into my cover and the content, but as far as specific programs tied to the launch, we don’t have any. We might be looking at the way we market online and do things a little differently but that probably would have happened anyways."
Will It Make Money?
Husni said he’s received a sneak peak of the new book and it hearkens back to the days when magazine stories were more narrative and photography was brilliant. "It’s like with the revamping of Time, people are finally starting to understand that the culture of magazines has changed," he said. "I hear people say, ‘Remember the great photography in Fortune?’" he said. "You look at it now and where is the photography. This is about good narrative and good photographs and leaving the newsier stuff to the Web."
Even so, business magazines collectively took the biggest hit in 2006 in ad pages and revenues, according to PIB figures, with 10 of the 12 major business magazines suffering declines.
Another industry insider, who has been following the launch of Portfolio, said he expects strong content from the magazine, but isn’t sure if the revenue is out there to support it. "I’m sure it will be an extremely high quality magazine and a good read," the source said. "I will be astounded if it ever makes a dime."
Conley said Conde Nast would do well to target a demographic not presently served by business magazines. "It could be aimed at a much younger audience," he said. "All the books out there are aimed a baby boomers and tend to serve a male audience, although I think Money targets a married couples, so perhaps they’re aiming at a more female audience. It’s hard to say because we haven’t seen the book. But I don’t think Conde Nast is saying, we’re going to take a few hundred thousand subscribers from Businessweek and a few hundred thousand from Forbes and that’s how we’ll make our audience."
Strong Web Presence
It’s important to have a strong Web presence in the magazine industry, but Conley said it would not have served Portfolio well to come out with a big, bold Web site in advance of the magazine. "I don’t think the Web was the appropriate place for them to build hype," he added. "Obviously they’ll need something complementary and something substantial in a Web site. But they’ll have the same problems that everyone is having in that there’s so much content out there, it’s hard to keep track of everything. So they’ll launch them both simultaneously and we’ll see if one or both will succeed or fail."