NEW YORK — Since arriving back at Condé Nast in February as the publisher of GQ, Ron Galotti has managed to reverse the magazine’s ad slide. For September, the 45th anniversary issue of the magazine is up 30 percent in ad pages from last year and is GQ’s fattest September issue to date. But juxtaposed with this undeniable feat is the continuing decline in the magazine’s newsstand performance.

In the last five years, GQ’s newsstand sales have dropped precipitously as male readers have looked increasingly to younger titles like Maxim and FHM. In 1997, GQ sold a monthly average of 336,000 newsstand copies. Today, that number is at 188,000, down 44 percent from five years ago and off 12.9 percent from last year’s first-half newsstand sales of 216,033, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Currently, GQ’s longtime rival Esquire is showing signs of life, up 11.5 percent on newsstand, although its average newsstand sales of 95,000 copies and its ad page total of 578 pages year-to-date are still only about half of GQ’s 1,134 ad page total.

This story first appeared in the August 23, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Now, multiple sources claim that Galotti — in addition to being worried — is less than thrilled with the both the product he has been selling for the last six months, and with Art Cooper, the magazine’s long-time editor.

“This is a magazine that is faced with difficult decisions,” said a close associate of the publisher’s within Condé Nast. “With men’s magazines, you are encountering a situation where fashion is not a point of entry for readers, and Ron is selling a magazine [whose editorial content] he’s not very passionate about.”

“The relationship between Art and [former publisher] Tom Florio was very close; this has been more difficult,” another company executive admitted.

But a third source close to Galotti went further, saying that “given the recent numbers, Ron is not particularly wedded to Art’s continued presence at GQ,” as well as that Galotti found the magazine’s editorial “out of touch.”

Two Condé Nast executives confirmed the friction between the two and contended that Galotti would not be upset by Cooper’s departure.

But reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, both Cooper and Galotti in a conference call vehemently denied there was any friction between them.

“It is unfounded bullshit,” said Galotti, before adding that he believed the accusations had come from Details (also published by WWD’s parent Fairchild Publications), or from another competitor of GQ’s. For the record, none of the sources quoted were from Details, nor from any GQ competitor.

Cooper also downplayed the recent newsstand performance of the magazine, pointing out that GQ’s subscriptions have increased by 27.6 percent over the last three years and that “many of the men’s magazines are bought mainly with subscriptions. Women buy more magazines through single-copy sales because they are sold in supermarkets.”

Both men said that issues from July and August boasted increases in newsstand sales compared with last year, though the next set of Audit Bureau figures to indicate this will not be out until spring 2003. And Galotti said that both Rolling Stone and Maxim have seen similar dips in newsstand over the last few years, with Maxim’s down 27 percent in the last two years and Rolling Stone off 36 percent in three years. (Rolling Stone, of course, replaced editor Bob Love in April with Ed Needham).

For now, sources within Condé Nast insisted that both S.I. Newhouse, Jr., chairman of Condé Nast’s parent Advance Publications (also the parent of WWD), and Steven J. Florio, Condé Nast’s chief executive officer, remain fully committed to Cooper’s presence at the magazine.

And Cooper, who went on a health diet six months ago, has, according to sources, become a far more attentive editor.

Taking the high road and refusing to pander to the beer-and-babes set has also had its advantages for GQ: While magazines like Maxim and FHM have been monumentally successful with readers, there are many high-fashion advertisers that remain wary of advertising with them.

Nor is this the first time in Cooper’s 19-year history at GQ that his future has been the subject of debate. This February the New York Post suggested Cooper might be on the way out, which Cooper denied.

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