DOES THE MARKET HAVE A FUTURE?: The morning after the stock market closed at its lowest point in almost six years, it was hard for a panel called “The Market’s Future” to be anything but a downer. But the lineup of Condé Nast Portfolio editors and writers tried their best to find some uplift. Nearly all of it concerned President-elect Barack Obama: Contributing editor John Cassidy said that, if the downward cycle is partly psychological, Obama’s popularity and communication skills could mitigate the collective pessimism, while senior writer Jesse Eisinger posited that an Obama economic plan that includes extending unemployment benefits and building infrastructure (“We have to build a lot more trains to put the hobos on”) could be a boost.
“You forgot commemorative plates and coins,” said Washington editor Matt Cooper. Eisinger suggested they could be melted down for gold.
This story first appeared in the November 21, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As to whether the panic has been worsened by access to 24-hour media, Eisinger said: “I don’t think the panic is irrational….I think the media did a good job warning about the housing bubble, and everyone ignored it. They did a terrible job on the fragility of financial services, but if we’d written that story, I’m not sure if anyone would’ve listened. We were just overwhelmed by the complexity. I think journalists were overmatched.” (Moderator and editor in chief Joanne Lipman and publisher William Li had repeatedly pointed to Eisinger’s own warnings in Portfolio’s first issue about derivatives — a quote from his story even adorned the back of the invitation.)
Cassidy said the media horde mentality had gone back to the adulation of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, whose “great market call was getting out right at the top.”
On a possible government bailout of the auto industry, Eisinger said he favors it to avoid massive job loss. “We should pour a lot of money down that rat hole,” he said grimly.
Cooper agreed: “We’re in a Xanax economy. If you don’t give everyone some kind of sedative….”
And Cassidy conceded that he “hated the idea,” but pointed out (perhaps only semifacetiously) that, since General Motors is one of the nation’s top advertisers, media had better get behind it.
— Irin Carmon
THE BITE OF THE BEAST: Tina Brown and her backer Barry Diller appear to be proving their naysayers wrong. With more than a month under its belt, The Daily Beast, helmed by Brown and funded by Diller, had a unique audience of roughly 1.1 million and total page views of 8.3 million during the month of October, according to Nielsen Online. General manager Caroline Marks said the first 30 days had 2.3 million uniques and 11.4 million page views. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post, which has a much longer track record since having launched in 2005, had 8.1 million unique visitors in October, according to Nielsen.
But The Beast has yet to earn its keep: The site hasn’t been able to capitalize on these numbers so far because it’s not selling any advertising yet. Marks noted ads will start showing up shortly. She declined to comment on which posts have been the biggest traffic drivers so far.
On Tuesday, The Daily Beast hosted bloggers and contributors, including Christopher Buckley, at Pop Burger to “pontificate, blog, eat and drink.” But don’t call it a party. Not during these trying economic times. “It was just an informal get-together,” said Marks.
— Amy Wicks
HARD TIMES IN LONDON: In just one sign of the economic downturn hitting media in the U.K., the Time Inc. restructuring unveiled last month is reaching the already significantly reduced international staff, many of whom are based in London and are considered local hires. Employees there received a memo Wednesday with specific guidelines, department by department, for cutting 17 of 26 editorial employees, with lighter cuts expected on the business side. Under British labor law, a 30-day consultation process has to take place before anyone is laid off, so Time International editor Michael Elliott is expected to fly out to London to discuss how to administer the layoffs with employees. A spokesman for the magazine in New York confirmed the process, but said numbers or names of employees could not be discussed for legal reasons.
New York hires working abroad can immediately be cut, so several editors and two bureau chiefs have been let go, including Jerusalem bureau chief Tim McGirk, who broke the story of the Haditha massacre. The spokesman declined to discuss Time’s plans for future international coverage.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for IPC Media, a division of Time Warner Inc. that publishes titles including U.K. Marie Claire, Wallpaper and U.K. In Style, said the company is planning “a small number of redundancies” across various aspects of the business.
The Dublin-based Independent News & Media plc this week revealed 90 job cuts at British newspapers The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, and magazine publishers Emap and IPC Media are both planning a small round of layoffs, too.
Emap, the B2B publisher and owner of Drapers, Retail Week and WGSN, has made 40 editorial job cuts in its magazine division.
On an upbeat note, Wallpaper has increased to 12 annual issues from 11, while a spokeswoman at Condé Nast U.K., which publishes local editions of Vogue, Glamour and GQ, among others, said there are currently no plans to downsize.
A spokeswoman for Bauer Media, which publishes Grazia and Pop magazine, said the company has “no announcements to make” regarding possible redundancies, while a spokeswoman for The National Magazine Company, a U.K. subsidiary of Hearst, also declined to comment on any plans for job cuts.
— Nina Jones and I.C.
CHANGES AT BRIDAL: Speculation has swirled about turmoil in Condé Nast Bridal Media, with some saying layoffs would hit the division and the quarterly Elegant Bride would fold. A spokeswoman for the division insisted Thursday that Elegant Bride has not folded, although the Bridal group on Wednesday saw one high-level departure: Susan Rerat, vice president of Brides.com. Rerat held many positions within Condé Nast dating back to 1986, at Vogue, Bon Appétit, House & Garden and, more recently, at Epicurious.com and Concierge.com. Meanwhile, insiders continue to buzz the company is still mulling future plans for the group, which could include folding either Modern Bride, which produces Elegant Bride, or decreasing the frequency of some of the titles.
— Stephanie D. Smith
DIVIDEND CUT: In a bid to cut debt and increase liquidity, the New York Times Co.’s board said Thursday that it would cut the company’s quarterly dividend to 6 cents a share, compared with 23 cents a share for the third quarter. “This was a difficult but necessary decision that will provide us with greater financial flexibility in these uncertain economic times,” said chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. In late October, following its last earnings report, Standard & Poor’s lowered the Times’ corporate credit rating to junk status, BB-, a three-notch downgrade. The company’s stock closed Thursday at $5.72, down 9.9 percent.
ANYTHING THEY CAN DO: As magazine publishers seek to give advertisers a bang for their buck — especially when that buck needs to stretch further and further — they’ve been forced to get creative. Travel + Leisure’s new partnership with Nautica on a villa in Mexico is an example. The rental-ready beachfront villa is stocked with Nautica goods such as bedding, home furnishings, towels and even clothes in guests’ sizes. The magazine has done its part, and not just by promoting the villa through advertisements in its pages and on the Web site. “We chose the villa jointly….We vetted 20 different villas through different providers,” said associate publisher for marketing Pamela Norwood. “We went down and walked through the villa and figured out how to maximize the exposure. We’ve had five meetings with their top creative people.”
Esquire’s branded spaces are an obvious comparison, though their apartments and houses bring together multiple advertisers, and Travel + Leisure is sticking to one brand and not putting its name on the space.
At the time, Nautica was about to launch its e-commerce site, so the sweepstakes to win a week in the villa is intended to drive traffic to the site. The contest has received 7,500 entries to date, and purchases of more than $125 at the Nautica online store come with a one-year subscription to Travel + Leisure. And, though T+L points to a recent reader survey that shows 65 percent of its readers plan to travel as much or more than last year, and that 75 percent already have plans to travel internationally in the next year, the venture isn’t totally impervious to the times: The price of the villa has been chopped from $16,100 to $12,600 a week.
DINNER DATES: It was date night with the beauty — and the beautiful — people Tuesday, when Linda Wells hosted a dinner for Allure’s November cover girl, Eva Longoria Parker, at Beso, the Hollywood restaurant owned by the “Desperate Housewives” star. Dripping candles and red roses festooned a lengthy table set for about 35 people, including Victoria Beckham, Heidi Klum, Rosario Dawson, Lake Bell, Hayden Panettiere, Felicity Huffman, Monique Lhuillier and Kyle MacLachlan. Allure’s love affair with Longoria Parker, twice the magazine’s cover subject, clearly burned strong. “Eva needs no retouching and she gives you an interesting interview. She takes risks and she speaks out,” said Wells, who singled out comments by the actress in the magazine’s April 2006 issue regarding teaching her then-boyfriend Tony Parker about love.
Longoria Parker praised Wells’ willingness to shoot the November cover outside and to feature her cropped hair. “Every magazine says they are going to be different, and they are always the same, but Linda really nailed it,” she said. “I am so frumpy on the show [“Desperate Housewives”], so it was nice to have a chance to get glammed up.”
— Rachel Brown