CLOSING UP HOUSE: Condé Nast said Monday it will shutter the 106-year-old House & Garden as of the December issue. The Web site, houseandgarden.com, also will shut down. The offices will officially close Friday.
The decision to shut the title was made last week, but Condé Nast president and chief executive officer Charles Townsend waited until Monday to relay the news to editor in chief Dominique Browning and her team. Browning, who has been at the title for 12 years, will leave the company. “It’s very disappointing,” she said, sounding emotional as she spoke to WWD Monday morning. “The editorial product was great. I had a great team. We took our circulation to 950,000 in 10 years. We had incredibly high renewal rates, so on the editorial side, we did a terrific job.”
The future of House & Garden had been speculated about for years, especially after Condé Nast launched Domino in 2004 and then spun off Vogue Living as an annual title last year. But H&G staffers believed neither were a threat to the magazine. “Domino is good for House & Garden. The few things they do well, we do well also. Competing magazines within a company keeps everybody on their toes. It makes you aware of another audience,” said H&G’s executive editor, Elizabeth Pochoda, on Monday.
Rumors of H&G’s demise reached a fever pitch when publisher Joe Lagani, who received the Turnaround of the Year award from Townsend at Condé Nast’s annual publisher’s meeting in Florida last winter, abruptly left the magazine in mid-October to join Glam.com. His departure, announced the day after H&G launched its flashy Design Week consumer event in New York, took both H&G staffers and Townsend by surprise. “Ad pages turned around, Joe was named [turnaround] of the year last year, and then…what happened next?” asked Pochoda. “I think he lost interest in the magazine.”
Lagani said he told Townsend months ago that he wanted out. “I had told Chuck six months ago that I was interested in a new challenge. It was not a surprise,” claimed Lagani. “I do acknowledge that I wanted a new challenge. But I put 110 percent of myself into that magazine while I was there. I was shocked that it was folded.”
After Lagani left, Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr., Townsend and editorial director Tom Wallace carefully studied the magazine’s long-term viability. “With the unexpected departure of the publisher of the magazine, we decided to take a serious look and reevaluate the title,” Townsend said in a statement. Interviewing potential Lagani replacements seemed to be less of a priority. According to a spokeswoman, “There were several people who expressed interest in the publisher job and there had been a few conversations.” But after crunching the numbers, Townsend said: “We no longer believe it is a viable business investment for the company.”
According to Publishers Information Bureau, ad pages through September fell by 1.4 percent, to 624. For the year, they grew 15 percent to 845 in 2006 compared with 2005. House & Garden carried more pages than corporate sibling Domino (463 pages) and Hearst Magazines’ House Beautiful (495), but Elle Decor carried 811 pages through the third quarter and Architectural Digest, also a Condé Nast title, reported 1,146 pages through September. It is not yet known what will happen to the subscription list from House & Garden or what subscribers will receive in lieu of the title.
Meanwhile, the other shelter titles at Condé Nast will get more company love next year. A spokeswoman confirmed that Vogue Living would increase its frequency next year to two issues, publishing spring and fall editions. Also, Domino is rasing its rate base from 625,000 to 700,000 in February, and again to 750,000 in August. — Stephanie D. Smith
HEADING TO POLO: Departures is losing its associate articles editor, Matt Trainor, but it’s not to another magazine. Starting Nov. 26, he’ll be the editorial director of ralphlauren.com, a newly created title, the company confirmed. Both Trainor and a spokesman for Ralph Lauren were tight-lipped, but hinted at major changes ahead. Trainor was previously Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter’s assistant and a senior editor at Cargo. — Irin Carmon
BACK TO BASE: Portfolio senior editor Brendan Vaughan is returning to Esquire to edit that magazine’s 75th anniversary issue, a nine-month position. He left Esquire, where he was articles editor, in October 2006 to join the launch of the Condé Nast business title, and gave notice Monday. — I.C.
FOR SALE?: Just minutes after the announcement Monday that Time Warner Inc. chief operating officer Jeff Bewkes was chosen to succeed Dick Parsons as chief executive officer of the conglomerate, rumors of structural changes at the company, including a possible Time Inc. spin-off, started again. Adding fuel to the fire, a few private equity analysts chimed in that the chances of seeing Time Inc. sold off are far more likely now. Ann Moore, chairman and chief executive officer at Time Inc., doesn’t expect a change — at least, that’s what she said during an interview at the Future of Business Media conference last week. However, she said that if Time Inc. were on the block, “we would be highly sought after,” adding that the publishing division is a “cash cow” for Time Warner, and a “big-value company.” She even joked that bankers “lust after” Time Inc. So what’s next for Time Warner? Well, on Wednesday, the company will report third-quarter earnings. — Amy Wicks