COME ON IN, THE PARTY IS JUST STARTING: The New York Magazine road show seems to be pretty much over, sources said. As of now, Mort Zuckerman is at the head of one table, holding discussions with a consortium of rich guys that includes ad man Donny Deutsch, Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein, Nelson Peltz and Cablevision’s Jim Dolan. The situation is fluid; not everyone will necessarily make it to the finish line with him. But if they did, two sources said, Zuckerman would provide the infrastructure for the title with partial backing from a group of investors.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a ceiling. As one source said, “He’s not going to pay $80 million for it.” But neither is his primary competitor right now, American Media’s David Pecker. And though a couple of dark-horse candidates have not been totally counted out — among them The Tribune Co. and Curtco Robb Media — these are the two most logical fits for the title. Sources said Emmis Communications is out.

This story first appeared in the December 2, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Pecker and Zuckerman have fairly well-tailored operations,” said another source. “There’s a big divide between a monthly and a weekly, and Pecker and Zuckerman are weekly publishers.”

They also have large presences in the New York market, both in terms of circulation and office space making for less in the way of transition costs.

The next phase in the bidding will likely involve another round of due diligence and then offers will be resubmitted. Allen & Co., which is handling the deal, would like the sale wrapped up by the end of the year so that it can make its commission. Primedia, according to a source, would like to drag it out so that it can report New York’s earnings as part of next year’s financials. (Last year, according to two sources who worked at the company then, Primedia withheld scores of contributors checks until after the new year in order to keep overhead down on their 2002 financials.)

One piece of good news for Primedia is that the title has been making significant ad gains in the last several months under new publisher Larry Burstein. In part, the sale has also come as a reminder that New York is a storied franchise and advertisers seem enthusiastic about the future of a New York outside of Primedia. That could help get the beleaguered media company somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million. — Jacob Bernstein

A&F TRILATERALLY: A&F Quarterly is gone for the holidays. As first reported by several Web sites, Abercrombie & Fitch appears to have unexpectedly yanked the Christmas edition of its racy magalogue from its stores the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and the company is sending mixed messages to reporters, customers and even its employees.

The decidedly conservative National Review reported on its Web site Monday that Abercrombie had pulled the Quarterly from its stores indefinitely under the threat of boycotts by a coalition of conservative activist groups. Freelance writer Anne Morse called the company’s headquarters the day before Thanksgiving, and spoke to whomever it was who answered the phone, a man who identified himself only as “Brennan.” He told Morse the company was receiving 300 calls an hour from outraged citizens mobilized by the nonprofit conservative group Focus on the Family. Morse was told on subsequent attempts to order the catalogue via phone that it would no longer be sold anywhere. “The only people who would get it from now on are people who have an existing subscription,” Morse told WWD. “I was told that on multiple calls.”

Now it’s time for damage control: Morse has since been told by Abercrombie that “Brennan doesn’t exist” and that there are no 300 calls per hour. A spokesman for the Quarterly told WWD the title was moved to make room in stores for A&F’s new fragrance and that the next installment will hit stores in early January. “There is no change in direction whatsoever,” he said. “You will still see what you’ve come to expect from the A&F Quarterly.”

“There is obviously a lot of scrambling going on at Abercrombie today,” said Dr. James Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family. “It’s Christmas time and they are pulling their catalogue for a fragrance? Their annual report says they spend $34 million on their catalogue. There’s a lot of dishonesty coming from this company.” (Abercrombie spent $33.4 million on the catalogue and other advertising in 2002.)

Confused? So are Abercrombie’s employees. Calls to stores in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles requesting a copy of the Quarterly yielded these respective responses: “We should be getting more in about a week,” “We had to send them back,” (said in a conspiratorial whisper) and “The next one should be the spring catalogue.” And then critics will have a whole new reason to be angry. — Greg Lindsay

PAPER WEIGHT: Everything becomes respectable if it’s around long enough and so has Paper, the little magazine that could. The hipster bible will receive the coffee table book treatment next fall, just in time for its 20th birthday. Magazine founders Kim Hastreiter and David Hershkovits have signed a multibook deal with Harper Design International, an imprint of Harper Collins, and the first will be the appropriately retrospective “20 Years of Style,” featuring contributions from the likes of Albert Watson, Ruben Toledo, Albert Chin, Patrick McMullan and David LaChapelle. — G. L.

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