LONDON — After 25 years, Gillian de Bono has bid farewell to How to Spend It, the Financial Times’ luxury supplement, and unlike many longstanding magazine editors here, she’s left of her own accord, with profit on the balance sheet and revenue on the upswing.
De Bono, who has been pumping out 34 issues of the large-format glossy a year, also leaves behind a daily news web site, regular newsletters and an updated iPad app. Her successor, who has yet to be named, has to come up with even more goods — and in a hot second — as the appeal of print shrinks, and digital demands grow.
Candidates to succeed de Bono are said to include her deputy editor at HTSI, Beatrice Hodgkin; Andrew Barker, former editorial director at Mr Porter; Jo Ellison, the FT’s fashion editor; Laura Weir, editor of the glossy ES Magazine, which comes out weekly with the Evening Standard, and Kenya Hunt, deputy editor of Elle U.K.
An announcement is expected as early as this week.
“The major challenge for the next editor is first and foremost the decline in demand for newspapers. Our print distribution is aligned to the newspaper distribution, and Millennials have little interest in print,” de Bono said in an interview.
“Howtospendit.com is nicely profitable, but its revenue is dwarfed by our print revenue. The biggest challenge will be to redress that balance — and that will not be easy.”
In the month of May, the FT’s average circulation per issue was 169,119.
There was a time, de Bono said, when incremental improvements could be made to a website with the prospect of small incremental gains. “But this is no longer an acceptable business model. We are now in an era when investment is dependent on significant, guaranteed and immediate returns.”
What used to be five-year business plans, she said, have morphed into six-month ones. And while it may be easy for an editor to come up with story ideas, she said, he or she also needs a business proposition to bankroll those ideas. “Editors have to be entrepreneurs.”
The money conversation is ongoing at How to Spend It — in more ways than one. As the magazine explores the products, experiences, services and lifestyle pursuits of the FT’s high-flying readers, the magazine has also had to grapple with its own financial ups and downs.
Unlike other glossies with munificent parent companies or indulgent owners (granted, those titles are now a thing of the past), How to Spend It was forced to be scrappy from the get-go.
A first mover in the newspaper space, the supplement started as a single page in the Saturday edition of the FT, and later turned into a large-format glossy.
The free supplement, which is not independently audited, comes with Friday or Saturday editions of the FT, and during the year there are themed issues focusing on fashion, yachts, interiors, the arts and travel. De Bono’s final issue will come out on July 6.
Since its launch, myriad British newspapers including The Times, The Telegraph and The Economist have endeavored to imitate it, with varying degrees of success, as few subscriber bases can match the acquisitive crowd at the FT.
At first, the FT didn’t pay much attention to HTSI, or allocate enough staff, resources, or technology. “There was a time when we felt very much like outsiders, but that became easier as our contributions to the bottom line increased,” said de Bono, who joined the FT in 1994 to set up a magazine department, and later became editor.
Around 2008, when things got difficult for almost all media outlets. “I sometimes had newspaper journalists, when I passed them in the corridor, saying ‘Thank you for paying my salary this month, Gillian,’” she said.
Even as it grew in prominence, HTSI didn’t necessarily get the support it needed.
De Bono said that while the FT wanted to launch a HowtoSpendIt.com, “a decision was made that we had to develop this website without using FT resources. They wanted the product, but they didn’t want the drain on resources, so we depended on outside agencies. It was very difficult, and I wouldn’t want to go through it again,” she said.
The title, whose launch editor was Lucia van der Post, has made a profit every year, and has never gone into loss, de Bono said. She said this year HTSI is expecting record revenues from its digital package, and is the market leader by “an almost embarrassing margin. Print and digital revenues continue to be a major profit center for the FT.”
De Bono said she wouldn’t have swapped the job for anything. “I’m not going to edit another magazine because if I wanted to, I would have stayed here because there is no better place to be, and no better magazine to edit.”
Her future work will be a combination of advisory roles and non-executive directorships, including one at Walpole, which promotes and develops British luxury worldwide.