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Jason Fell

Men’s Health Guides Readers to the Next Tasty Pint

Jason Fell emedia and Technology - 09/10/2009-11:15 AM

A thirsty beer lover + a GPS bar locator = a wonderful idea.

Rodale’s Men’s Health has taken its regular “Jimmy the Bartender” column in the magazine and created an application for it for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The application uses GPS technology to guide imbibing users to the next watering hole, all in proximity to the user’s location.

Additionally, the application features hundreds of “Ask Jimmy” Q+As, drink recipes and allows users to submit their own reviews and photos to the application database. It even offers advice on tipping and on flagging down the bartender.

"We're not just turning over the keys to a developer, or re-purposing content from the publication—we’re creating exciting new ways for the user to interact with our brand,” Rodale senior vice president and Men's Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko said in a statement. “Simply put, this is one of the most sophisticated applications to be developed by a magazine brand to date.”

Sophisticated? Maybe. But what really matters is that users not drop their iPhones in their umpteenth pint while trying to locate the next tap on the crawl.

Jason Fell

American Apparel Squeezed Over ‘Inappropriate’ Ad in Vice

Jason Fell Sales and Marketing - 09/03/2009-08:24 AM

I’m surprised it took this long.

American Apparel, the mega clothing retailer known as much for its risqué advertisements as it is for its cotton t-shirts and underwear, has had an ad campaign banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, a U.K. advertising regulator.

The campaign, which appeared on the back cover of the U.K. edition of irreverent New York-based magazine Vice, featured a series of six photos of a “young looking girl” wearing the retailer’s “Flex Fleece” zip-up hoody. In the photos, the girl was seen “exposing progressively more skin in each photo in the series,” suggesting that “she was stripping off for an amateur-style photo shoot,” the ASA said.

In its ruling, the ASA banned the ad claiming it “could be seen to sexualise a model who appeared to be a child, under the age of 16 years” and concluded that it was “inappropriate and could cause serious offence to some readers.” In a statement, American Apparel said it agreed to stop using the ad, but also noted that the ASA’s assessment was in response to “a single citizen complaint.”

While I can’t say I’m shocked that American Apparel’s racy ads caught the ire of an advertising watchdog (and previously of film director Woody Allen), I find this story tough to swallow for two reasons. One: That U.K.’s big ad regulator would expend enough resources to ban an ad campaign based on just one complaint. And, two: Out of all of American Apparel’s advertising partners—online and in print—that Vice magazine was the platform for this controversy.

American Apparel’s half naked models shouldn’t be anything new for Vice readers. The retailer has been advertising in the magazine since its first issue launched in 2003.

Jason Fell

Celebrity, Fashion Magazines Collect Dust on Newsstands

Jason Fell Audience Development - 08/31/2009-11:42 AM

The Audit Bureau of Circulations today released its long-awaited FAS-FAX report for the first half of 2009. Not surprisingly, preliminary numbers showed that, of the more than 500 magazines reporting, overall paid subscriptions were flat, up about half a percentage point.

Single copy sales, meanwhile, were down 12 percent overall compared to the same six-month period last year. Notably, our beloved newsstand behemoths—celebrity and fashion titles—saw some of the biggest single copy declines.

In the fashion category, Condé Nast's W registered the biggest newsstand loss of the period, with single copy sales nosediving 21 percent (from 34,917 copies to 27,583). Time Inc.’s In Style followed closely with newsstand sales dropping 20.1 percent to 625,589. Condé Nast's Vogue, the category’s newsstand powerhouse, saw single copy sales drop 7.8 percent to 1,616,908 copies.

Celebrity magazines didn’t fare much better on the newsstand. OK! magazine—which announced today that it is reducing its rate base to 800,000 from 900,000—saw newsstand sales fall 20.4 percent to 398,360 copies. Time Inc.’s Entertainment Weekly posted the only newsstand growth with single copy sales climbing a modest 0.9 percent. Overall circ., however, dropped 1.9 percent to 1,779,537.

Although they don’t rely heavily on newsstand sales, the newsweekly and business/finance categories also saw their share of single copy losses. Money magazine, which actually sells a significant number of copies on the newsstand, saw single copy sales drop 33.9 percent to 67,275 (down from 101,770). Among the decliners in both categories, only BusinessWeek, The Economist and Inc. didn’t post double-digit declines.

Among the gainers, The Week saw single copies skyrocket 131.3 percent, but up only to 4,209 copies from 1,820. U.S. News & World Report (although no longer technically a newsweekly) saw a 27.4 percent spike in newsstand sales while its overall circulation dropped 25.3 percent to 1,365,652 copies.

Here's a look at single copy sales, category-by-category, through the first six months (per ABC):

FASHION 2009 2008 % CHNG
Allure 190,333
Cosmopolitan 1,616,908
Elle 291,577
Glamour 589,665
Harper's Bazaar
In Style
Lucky 198,583
Marie Claire
Vogue 374,750
CELEBRITY 2009 2008 % CHNG
Entertainment Weekly
In Touch Weekly
Life & Style
519,388 -7.8
OK! 398,360
People 1,319,350
601,115 701,318
Us Weekly
2009 2008 % CHNG
Newsweek 64,866
The Week 4,209
1,820 131.3
Time 100,382
U.S. News 40,304
2009 2008 % CHNG
BusinessWeek 27,953 29,917
The Economist 62,491
Entrepreneur 38,692
Fast Company 24,659
Forbes 27,172
Fortune 25,409
Harvard Business Review 27,253
Inc. 26,000
Kiplinger's 30,731
Jason Fell

UPDATE: Time to Publish Commemorative Kennedy Issue, Book

Jason Fell Editorial - 08/26/2009-16:21 PM

American politics lost its “liberal lion” Tuesday night when longtime Massachusetts Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy passed away from a battle with a brain cancer. He was 77.

As expected, the media coverage surrounding Kennedy’s death has been swift and dedicated. A number of news outlets, including several television networks, are planning special commemorative coverage of Kennedy’s life and work.

Time is the first magazine I’ve seen step forward with plans for a special commemorative issue in print, which publisher Time Inc. said is set to hit newsstands Friday, August 28, under its normal shipping schedule.

The issue will feature pieces on Kennedy from Time columnist Joe Klein, as well as Bob Shrum, Mike Barnicle and longtime Kennedy family aide Ted Sorenen. It also will include a number of articles about Kennedy written by Time editors.

Over the years, Time has published commemorative editions about Barack Obama’s election and the deaths of Princess Diana, JFK Jr. and others. A Time spokesperson said she didn't have details when I asked if this issue will have any special distribution.

A Kennedy Commemorative Book

In addition to the magazine, Time is publishing a 112-page commemorative book: Ted Kennedy: A Tribute. This is how Time describes it:

The book is an intimate portrait from his early years to his last days as the Lion of the Senate. His life will be told through never-before-seen photographs by photographer Ken Reagan of Kennedy at work, on the campaign trail and with family and friends.

With Kennedy's health deteriorating in recent months, I bet Time had been working on this well in advance. The book will be available for pre-order on and for $19.95, and on newsstands on September 4, for $13.99.

I'm sure this won't be the only Ted Kennedy commemorative work we'll see from magazines in the coming weeks.

UPDATE: See? It appears that Newsweek also will be publishing a commemorative Ted Kennedy issue, on newsstands only starting this Friday.

The 99-page issue, called “The Last Brother-Edward M. Kennedy 1932-2009," will feature contributions from Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Birch Bayh, author Burton Hersh and political commentator Neal Gabler, among others. The issue will remain on newsstands through November 30.


Jason Fell

In Bankruptcy, Reader’s Digest CEO, CFO Get Sweet Financial Packages

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 08/20/2009-11:37 AM

According to documents filed this week with the Security and Exchange commission, the Reader's Digest Association—in connection with its reorganization plan—agreed to changes in CEO Mary Berner’s and CFO Tom Williams’ base salaries and severance payouts.

During the Chapter 11 process, Berner will be paid $125,000 per month in base salary. Meanwhile, Williams will receive $68,200 per month.

Multiplied out over 12 months, Berner’s new agreement would put her annual salary at $1.5 million. According to RDA’s last 10-K report, Berner in fiscal 2008 was earning a base salary of $600,000 (and was eligible for an annual guaranteed bonus of $500,000). That doesn’t include performance incentive bonuses that could have been as much as 400 percent of her base salary—although I’m sure they were nowhere near that much.

In case Berner isn’t offered her job back when RDA eventually emerges from bankruptcy protection, the company has agreed to up her severance package to $2.2 million, plus any earned but unpaid salary, vacation pay and/or unreimbursed business expenses. That’s up significantly from the $1 million severance package she agreed to when she signed on with RDA in 2007.

Williams agreed to receive a severance package worth $1.2 million.

Berner and Williams were smart. Even after putting together a pre-packaged plan of reorganization, you never know how things will shake out after taking it to a bankruptcy court, or if you’ll still have your job afterward.

Jason Fell

Could Annie Leibovitz Lose the Rights to Her Work?

Jason Fell Consumer - 08/19/2009-09:54 AM

Over the last several months, FOLIO: has reported its fair share of difficult stories. Magazine have folded. Thousands of people have been laid off. Publishing companies have filed for bankruptcy.

Here’s another tough one.

Renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, whose iconic work has appeared in magazines like Vogue and Rolling Stone over her four decade-long career, is nearing the darkest deadline of her life: Repay $24 million in loans by September 8 or face losing her homes —and perhaps the rights to her entire life’s work.

Leibovitz (pictured), according to a lengthy profile of her in New York magazine, borrowed the money from New York City-based bankers Art Capital Group last year to help with outstanding debts she racked up. The group has since filed legal proceedings against the famed photographer claiming that she never intended to pay them back.

The New York piece, written by Andrew Goldman, said the Art Capital loans consolidated all of Leibovitz’s debts, including her mortgages. While Goldman couldn’t track down the interest rate, the term of the loan was for one year.

That means Leibovitz has to come up with $24 million, plus interest, by this September. Under the terms of the agreement, says a person familiar with the loan, Art Capital could be entitled to up to 22.5 percent of all the proceeds from the sale of any of Leibovitz’s work—even for two years after she’s paid off the loan. And that percentage could increase to close to 50 percent if she were to default. Potentially, Art Capital may be entitled to her homes and even her catalogue of past and future copyrights.

Goldman Sachs, which helped finance the loan, told New York that it is not involved in the dispute between Leibovitz and Art Capital but has proposed to terminate the loan agreement to negotiate directly with Leibovitz on how to resolve the repayment.

The New York piece offers an in-depth look at Leibovitz and the financial roller coaster she’s ridden the last few decades. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about someone of Leibovitz’s stature—who has access to financial advisors—backed into a corner over massive debt. In this case, however, I can’t imagine the prospect of a bank potentially owning the rights to Leibovitz’s entire, mind-blowing portfolio.

Take the houses. Leave the rights to her work.

Jason Fell

UPDATE: Time Buys a Detroit House, Er, Office

Jason Fell Consumer - 08/17/2009-16:16 PM

Get the welcome package ready. A new neighbor is moving to town—in Detroit, that is.

Time magazine owner Time Inc. reportedly ponied up $99,000 to buy a 95-year-old house on Parker Ave. in the West Village neighborhood to use as a satellite office. The magazine is said to be ramping up coverage of the ailing Motor City.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Time reporters will be able to live and work from the house, making it the city’s first live-in bureau. The New York Times and Washington Post have traditional Detroit bureau offices there—not living quarters.

Time had a Detroit bureau but closed it nearly a decade ago, the report said. When contacted by FOLIO:, a Time spokesperson said the company "isn't ready" to discuss the purchase.

From Time Inc.’s perspective, the purchase seems convenient: It combines office expenses and living expenses. I assume owning the house could save the publisher a significant amount of money on travel and hotel expenses, especially if its intentions for expanded coverage in Detroit are as extensive as was reported.

The drawback, from a reporter’s perspective, is, the combined living and working experience. I doubt these reporters will have the luxury (if you call it that) of making their calls and writing their stories on the couch in the underwear. Why else would you want to work from home?

And what if the plumbing backs up? Do you call landlord (and Time Inc. CEO Jeffrey) Bewkes to hire a plumber?

UPDATE: Ali Zelenko, Time and Fortune's vice president of communications, e-mailed me this statement:

"Beginning next month, Time Inc. will make a year-long editorial commitment to covering the city of Detroit and its surrounding areas using the unparalleled print, online and video resources of many of our titles and sites, including Time,, Fortune,, Sports Illustrated,, Money,,, Essence and We will report on the host of issues facing Detroit in this economy—stories that are fascinating in their own right and that also have national relevance and meaning. As an indication of our long-term commitment, we have purchased a house in Detroit, where Time Inc. and other journalists will live and work. We will donate the house to a local charity at the end of the project. While this is an editorial venture conceived entirely by Time Inc. journalists, as with any special editorial project we are offering advertisers opportunities to support it—and initial response has been very positive."

Jason Fell

‘Informing Reader Skepticism’ One Tweet at a Time

Jason Fell emedia and Technology - 08/07/2009-12:54 PM

As if we needed a reminder about how bad the economy is right now.

To mark the 12-month anniversary later this year of the start of the economic recession, SmartMoney magazine has launched a social media project called Countdown to the Crash. The magazine is tweeting daily stories from the previous year, chronicling what life was like, day-by-day, before and during the brutal economic decline.

The tweets began this month and will continue through December.

Sure, Countdown to the Crash is an interesting use of social media, but as the economy continues to struggle, and unemployment claims continue to soar over this time last year, how many people want to read about the fall of Lehman Brothers or the AIG bailout—AGAIN. (As of this afternoon, its Twitter feed had 65 followers.)

According to SmartMoney Web editor Tom Weber, however, there are several reasons it is helpful to readers. One, he said, is the sense of perspective it gives about current conditions.

“One of the reactions I’ve heard repeatedly from people reading the tweets,” Weber said, “is how they remember that things seemed bad this time last year, but when they see the hard facts, such as the jobless rate at under 6 percent a year ago, they have a better understanding of just how much the economy unraveled since then.”

Weber said Countdown to the Crash also offers a reminder of “how much people were in denial.”

“General Motors standing behind [former chairman and CEO Rick] Wagoner in August 2008? The market shooting up 3 percent because of low oil prices? With hindsight you ask yourself, What were people thinking?” he said. “And I think that’s actually a great question for readers to ponder. It will help inform their future skepticism.”

If you still have some dollars to invest then maybe you should check it out.

Jason Fell

Reader’s Digest: A Golfing Joke Gone Bad

Jason Fell Editorial - 07/30/2009-15:07 PM

This isn’t exactly the shot you’d think to use your five iron for.

Last month’s issue of Reader’s Digest featured a joke submitted by a reader about police officers finding a man in an apartment, holding a golf club and standing over the “lifeless body” of a woman. In the joke, when asked how many times he struck the woman, the man replied: "I don't know. Five ... maybe six ... Put me down for a five."

Now, advocates for domestic violence victims are speaking out against the joke and the magazine. "Women have a hard enough time coming forward to report the abuse and/or to leave their abuser—now she gets to feel as though it's ok for people to joke about it?" a victim advocate for Bolton Refuge House, a nonprofit support service for domestic violence victims, wrote in a letter to the magazine. "It's obvious that you have no sensitivity to victims of domestic violence and have no clue of the prevalence of this crime."

In responses to the outcries, a Reader’s Digest spokesperson told the Associated Press that it takes domestic violence “very seriously, and clearly this joke crossed the line."

I must have missed the joke when I flipped through that issue of Reader’s Digest but can’t imagine how that one slipped past its editors. I agree that a joke of that nature—submitted by a reader or not—has no place in a magazine like Reader’s Digest.

Jason Fell

Recently Folded? Beware of Angry Subscribers

Jason Fell Audience Development - 07/23/2009-10:46 AM

The bad news keeps rolling in for shuttered hip-hop magazine Vibe.

Less than a month after Vibe announced that it was going out of business, an angry subscriber this week filed a federal lawsuit claiming breach of contract. The reader, Enterprise, Alabama resident Kenneth Rogers, reportedly purchased a one-year subscription to Vibe three months before it folded.

Rogers is petitioning for all of the magazine’s subscribers to get a refund for the issues they won’t receive. According to the lawsuit, Vibe’s Web site “continued to contain links to advertisements enticing customers to purchase subscriptions to the magazine” even while the company was “quietly closing up the shop.”

The suit said Vibe Media Group, which is named as a defendant, should have notified subscribers of its intentions to close the magazine.

Whether publishers cough up refunds, or fulfill the remainder of a subscription with another title or by selling its list to another publisher, satisfying subscribers is a topic that has increasingly been discussed as more magazines have been forced to call it quits this year. Just look at the comments posted to FOLIO:’s story from February about the closing of Hallmark magazine. Subscribers don't appear to be happy.

Today, I spoke with professor and ethics columnist Jeffrey Seglin, who said that even when magazines fulfill their subscriptions with other titles, it can anger existing subscribers.

"An ethical response would be to be very clear with readers what you plan to do to fulfill the remainder of their subscription and then to make sure to follow through and do what you say you are going to do," Seglin said. "No communication with readers strikes me as an unacceptable approach."

Jason Fell

An Ex-Entrepreneur Writer Lashes Out

Jason Fell Editorial - 07/21/2009-12:40 PM

The editorial exodus at Entrepreneur continues.

According to his blog, staff writer Dennis Romero was let go Friday for "failing to carry out the duties of my job" and because "it was clear I was not happy working there."

While Romero admitted his unhappiness at the magazine, he vehemently denied the charge of failing to carry out his duties as a writer. “I will cede the second point. On the first, let me call bullshit: Since arriving to the job of staff writer at Entrepreneur in September of 2008, I have produced more copy, written more words, interviewed more people, and penned more cover stories than anyone else employed by the company,” Romero wrote. “Repeat that sentence to yourself, then wait to see if anyone from the company refutes it. You’ll hear crickets, and I’ll put money on it.”

Romero also had editor-in-chief Amy Cosper in his blogging crosshairs: “During my experience at Entrepeneur [sic], Cosper could not be bothered to make many assignments, read much copy, edit many sentences or manage many staff members. She once told an incoming editor to find out what the folks back in the cubicles did. This was after she had spent more than half a year at the mag. These were her people—her responsibility.”

"We terminated his employment for cause," Entrepreneur vice president and corporate publisher Ryan Shea wrote in an e-mail to me this afternoon. "As you know there are two sides to every story."

So, are these the rantings of a slighted staffer? Or legitimate condemnations of an editorial staff in trouble?

Click here to read Romero’s entire post.

Jason Fell

Spanfeller to Take Equity Stake in Client Projects

Jason Fell emedia and Technology - 07/16/2009-16:29 PM

Forbes today said Jim Spanfeller will be leaving as president and CEO of He will remain with the company through the end of August.

I spoke with Spanfeller this afternoon and he denied reports that his leaving was pressured by Forbes investor Elevation Partners. “That’s just crappy reporting,” he said during a phone conversation. “Unless Elevation has the ability to stick thoughts and actions in my head, they had nothing to do with my decision to move on.”

Spanfeller also denied reports that his departure had to do with declining traffic at “That’s even shittier reporting,” he said. “Anyone with any tenure in the online space knows that different sources you go to for traffic numbers produce different results, and that’s problematic at best. Even if one says we’re down slightly over a couple of months, the truth is that is up from half a million uniques in 2001 to 18 million to 20 million today.”

Spanfeller told me he plans to launch a media management firm later this year after he leaves Forbes. “In this move from analog to digital, not many companies have cracked the code in the digital space,” he said. “It seems to me there is a window—maybe a five-year window—to go to traditional publishers and help them grow online.”

Spanfeller said he and his (eventual) team will aim to “not consult for, but manage” publishers’ Web sites as standalone businesses. “We’ll take what is presumably a less worthwhile portion of their business and turn it into a profitable product that has a future,” he said. “We’ll train and put management in place, then turn the keys back to the publishers.

“Publishers have all the data online, and they need to follow it,” he continued. “They have the great luxury of knowing what’s being read, when and how soon after you post it. It’s foolish not to look at those numbers and put them to work.”

In exchange for his services, Spanfeller said he’d ask for a percentage of the expense structure as a management fee and take an equity stake in the Web portion of the business.

“Publishers who don’t have a large business online yet will benefit from this model,” he said. “I’ll work to solve a need and will be compensated if I succeed.”