NEW YORK — Just days after Art Cooper declared that he had no plans to retire, Condé Nast shocked the publishing industry on Monday with the news that the GQ editor in chief indeed would be stepping down, effective June 1.
Condé Nast said Monday that James Truman, its editorial director, will conduct the search for a new editor and that Cooper will work with him on it. Speculation has centered on British GQ editor Dylan Jones, with an outside chance that David Zinczenko would be plucked from Men’s Health.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and it was a really hard decision,” Cooper said in a press release issued Monday. “I strongly believe that the time to leave is when you still love what you’re doing. June 1 will be precisely 20 years from the day S.I. Newhouse [chairman of Advance Publications, owner of Condé Nast and WWD] offered me the job and therefore, an appropriate time to step down.”
Cooper did not return telephone calls seeking comment. But company officials claimed they were caught off guard by his decision, which he delivered to Newhouse early Monday morning. Condé Nast chief executive Steve Florio was out of town, as was Lisa Dallos, the magazine’s spokeswoman. “We did not plan on this for Monday,” a Condé Nast source said.
What led up to that, though, was far more complicated.
While Cooper had a long and successful run at GQ, the magazine’s newsstand sales began to plummet in the late Nineties with the onslaught of the “laddie mag” movement. Cooper sniped publicly that the magazines were read by Neanderthals, but within months of their release, titles like Maxim, its offshoot Stuff, and Emap’s FHM were quickly eating into his newsstand sales. In 1997, just before the release of Maxim, GQ was the largest men’s general interest magazine with a newsstand circulation of 336,000 copies per month. By June of 2002, GQ’s newsstand sales had plummeted to 188,000, less than a quarter of what Maxim currently sells and about half of what Stuff, FHM and Men’s Health sell.
As the magazine began to lose face with readers, the rumors within Condé Nast began. Sources said Cooper had a chilly relationship with Truman, whose input has not always been welcomed by some of the company’s more well-known editors.
In 2001, word broke that the magazine’s new art director, Fred Woodward, had been picked by Truman. Cooper denied the reports.
But changes he supported did not go as planned, either. In February 2002, following the demise of Talk Magazine, Ronald Galotti returned to Condé Nast as GQ’s publisher. Galotti and Cooper were “friends,” but the publisher was said to quickly grow unhappy with the magazine’s performance editorially.
In August, WWD reported that Galotti had been complaining to Condé Nast higher-ups about the magazine’s long-term prospects under Cooper, which Cooper again denied. He also said that newsstand sales had begun to increase and that the July, August and September issues had all been selling well. Newsstand sales did show an increase for the period, but by only a little more than 5 percent, according to the publisher’s statement.
A series of p.r. blitzes also failed to generate real buzz for the magazine. In December, Condé Nast purchased a time slot on NBC Saturday night to air GQ’s “Men of the Year” awards. It was the worst performance on a prime time network that night.
Cooper began his career at GQ after a stint at Penthouse, when it was trying to rival Playboy with its articles as well as its nudity. But it was his stewardship at GQ that turned him into a star editor. His 20th anniversary at the magazine will mark the longest run of any current Condé Nast editor.