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FINAL WORD: So which of the weeklies won the war of words in covering Paris Hilton‘s release from jail — People or Us Weekly? According to the newsstand performance, it’s pretty much a draw. People covered the Hilton story exhaustively, landing an exclusive interview with the heiress after she was released from jail on June 26 and featured the fresh-faced Hilton in a seven-page spread in the magazine. The New York Post reported the magazine was willing to pay $300,000 to Getty Images for photo rights, but the deal was eventually scrapped, and People paid no money for the interview or for photos. Us Weekly, meanwhile, decided to boycott the story both in the magazine and on its Web site, putting a photo portfolio of Hollywood babies on its cover instead. (Us Weekly reportedly offered to donate money to charity in exchange for an interview, but Hilton’s camp declined.)
People’s gamble seemingly paid off — according to sources familiar with scan data, its July 9 issue sold more than 1.5 million copies and was one of the top 10 best-selling issues for the first half of the year. A spokesman for Us Weekly declined to comment on its numbers, but an Us Weekly source said its July 9 issue sold above average on newsstand. Through December 2006, Us Weekly sold 978,285 single copies per week, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
“I’m pleased. It came in right where it was supposed to be,” said Larry Hackett, People’s managing editor.
Hackett still felt it was important to go big with the Hilton story, though it had been exhaustively covered by various Web sites and television news outlets by the time People’s Hilton interview hit newsstands on June 29. “She was what people were talking about, and that‘s where we want to be,” explained Hackett. “I said the same thing a year ago, with the Shiloh [Jolie-Pitt] baby pictures.” People reportedly paid $4.1 million for the exclusive domestic rights to those photos; the issue was its highest seller of the year.
“You make decisions about the issue, but you also make decisions on a long-term idea. Whether you love this person or hate this person, you still say this is a long-term [decision]. Months from now people will remember we had the interview with Paris Hilton,” said Hackett.
The July 9 issue was the first time People featured Hilton on its cover, according to Hackett, but it’s unlikely she will receive this level of coverage going forward. “The story was what did she go through in jail; how did she weather this experience. I don’t know if there will still be reason to put her on the cover in the future.”
But there’s another story that will always hold strong for People — the life and times of Princess Diana. On Monday, the magazine will release “Diana: An Amazing Life,” a photo book with more than 180 pages of stories and photos from People’s archives. Princess Diana has appeared on 123 People covers, 57 of which have had her as the main image, and is typically a top-selling subject for the magazine. — Stephanie D. Smith
AIMING TO BE A PLAYER: A year into his editorship of BlackBook, Steve Garbarino is doing his utmost to, in his own words, move “forward and away from being an artsy boutique publication, and more a magazine of substance in investigative content and narrative fashion. Be a real player in the magazine world.”
And despite the often chaotic world of alternative magazines at large — the small-scale vendettas, the dubious ad practices, the embittered freelancers — no one could fault Garbarino on sheer effort to make the magazine into a legitimate influencer. He’s enlisted fellow Vanity Fair contributing editor Nancy Jo Sales to write the next cover story on Carolyn Murphy, and in a perhaps unintentional reunion of past-their-prime prep myth-makers, has gotten Jay McInerney and Whit Stillman to each write pieces.
With a new chairman, Bob Hoff, and a reported influx of cash, the magazine will be moving for the second time this year. The new office at 19th and Park Avenue in New York, to be occupied by the BlackBook guides and the magazine starting July 18, will be one-and-a-half times the size of the most recent office on Great Jones Street and Broadway. And that long-promised issue frequency increase, from six to 10, is now slated for the February issue, with accompanying hires planned.
Garbarino said the Web site will be relaunched with a daily blog, and he’s currently making final decisions on potential bloggers. He’s hired the magazine’s first marketing and promotions director to create the added value partnerships so beloved of magazines — an Oscar party is tentatively planned — and is also close to hiring a West Coast editor. — Irin Carmon
FINDING A PLACE: Yet another former Time Inc. executive is set to find a place among the private equity ranks. According to sources, Robin Domeniconi will shortly join Avista Capital as a consultant; Avista was formed in 2005 by former partners at DLJ Merchant Banking Partners. Domeniconi was Time Inc. media group president for just over a year after serving four years as publisher, and eventually president, of Real Simple, but left the company in March. According to sources close to Avista, Domeniconi will help advise the private equity group on new media deals as it looks to expand its holdings in that sector. In December, Avista acquired the Star Tribune from The McClatchy Company for $530 million. This year, according to sources close to the company, the firm has looked at acquiring The Robb Report and Dennis Publishing, and made a bid for the Time4 Media stable of magazines. Dennis Publishing eventually went to Quadrangle Group in June for around $250 million, while Swedish media conglomerate The Bonnier Group bought the Time4 Media titles in January, also for approximately $250 million. — S.D.S.