SHUT OUT, AGAIN: What, exactly, does the American Society of Magazine Editors have against Hachette Filipacchi Media? The company, home to 16 titles including Elle and Premiere, has failed to score so much as a single National Magazine Award nomination in each of the last six years. Not since 2000, when Premiere was a finalist in the reviews and criticism category, has a Hachette magazine been nominated, and not since 1993, when American Photo took home a general excellence award, has one of them won.

Naturally, Hachette editors, past and present, have their theories about the drought, although they’re reluctant to discuss them on the record. The most commonly cited — and seemingly flawed — explanation involves the nature of the company’s portfolio: Elle aside, it’s mostly enthusiast or shelter titles. But that argument doesn’t hold much water, considering Backpacker, Runner’s World and House & Garden are all up for general excellence awards this year.

A more convincing case posits that Hachette’s cost-conscious mind-set is to blame, yielding handicaps such as relatively poor paper quality and low editorial-to-advertising page ratios. Condé Nast, which perennially dominates the ASMEs (and which owns WWD), has historically been as much concerned with market share as with profit-loss ratios, noted one Hachette editor: “They have the ability to lavish huge amounts of space on subjects, and that’s what’s rewarded — length, and, to some degree, pomposity.”

Wenner Media, meanwhile, seems to have its own methods of ensuring a steady flow of ASMEs: enriching its editors for winning them. Michael Caruso‘s contract at Men’s Journal, for instance, stipulated a bonus of $5,000 for every nomination and $10,000 for every win. (The contract was made public as part of Caruso’s lawsuit against Wenner, which he departed in October.) Sources said Hachette contracts do not typically contain such provisions.

Indeed, years of being ignored by ASME judges seem to have bred an institutional indifference — or at least a show of indifference — to the contest. Hachette president Jack Kliger, who is currently president of the Magazine Publishers of America, ASME’s parent organization, has been known to dismiss the awards as “the in-crowd voting for what people don’t read,” according to one confidante. (Kliger did not respond to messages.)

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That said, Hachette editors continue to enter their magazines and hope for the best. “I think we do ASME-quality work,” said Elle editor in chief Roberta Myers. “I think we’re competitive.” But being competitive clearly isn’t enough — Elle hasn’t been nominated since 1987. One competing editor suggested Myers take a page from Glamour editor Cindi Leive, who seemed to be everywhere in the months prior to her magazine’s general excellence award last year. Said the editor, “Robbie needs to do what Cindi did and raise her profile.”
Jeff Bercovici

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