Interview magazine is trying to start fresh, but recent history is creating obstacles.
Last year saw the now 50-year-old magazine founded by Andy Warhol pushed into bankruptcy liquidation by Peter Brant, who owned the title during a period of financial turmoil that saw it eventually stop paying its bills and employees. Brant subsequently bought it from himself out of bankruptcy and apparently handed it over to his eldest daughter, Kelly Brant, who had been its president for several years, to be “relaunched” again under her leadership and a new holding company, Crystal Ball Media.
Although the magazine in recent months has worked to again fill out its editorial team — several former high-profile staffers like Fabien Baron left before the bankruptcy due to lack of payment, while others were cut post-bankruptcy — and now is said to be fully staffed at around 18 people, there seems to be more than a little anxiety around getting paid.
Sources told WWD that only at the tail end of 2018 did payment for freelance work on the September issue — the first issue after its May bankruptcy, meaning it was, to be clear, produced while the magazine was still technically a bankrupt entity — come through, along with some for the newest winter issue, being released now. This was after sources had expressed some doubt toward the end of the year about whether freelancers would be paid at all and a growing sense that Interview was operating much the same as it had before its bankruptcy filing, i.e. beyond its means and unorganized. Jason Nikic, Interview’s chief revenue officer since 2016 who is also now its publisher, declined to comment, citing rumors and speculation.
While it’s understood that the magazine has no invoices older than 60 days and is trying to be more transparent with staff and partners about its operations, Interview is carrying some baggage as a result of its past behavior when it comes to paying people.
From freelancers to major agencies, hundreds are stuck with unpaid bills because Peter Brant no longer wanted to float a magazine that was losing money and decided a liquidation was the best way to avoid more than $3 million in creditor debts. And freelancers especially have little recourse but to simply wait and see if they will be paid. Waiting is understandably even more trying with Interview since so many freelancers and longtime employees will never be paid in full for their previous work with the magazine.
In addition to freelancers, it’s said that Interview is relying heavily on a few unpaid interns for shoot production in particular, which can turn problematic. Condé Nast found out as much a few years ago, as did Hearst Magazines, after both were hit with now-resolved lawsuits over interns being paid below the minimum wage for work.
There’s also the issue of where Interview’s staff is working. The company is said to have been based in the coworking space Spring Place since November, when it left an office space on Greene Street in New York’s SoHo neighborhood (where it had stopped paying rent at one point last year but subsequently reached a short-term lease agreement). Other former Peter Brant titles like Art News and Art in America were also based at Greene Street, but those titles were acquired by Penske Media Corp, which also owns WWD.
Interview is said to right now be in the process of moving to a permanent office in New York, but a company representative declined to give the address. While it was rumored that the move was going to be to a building at 575 Broadway, owned by Peter Brant, or the soon to be opened Brant Foundation building in the East Village, it’s understood that the new headquarters have no affiliation with the former owner and chairman.
All this fits in with what’s said to be an effort to have a “start-up mentality” at the magazine, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Interview has been around for decades and subscribers are starting to complain on social media about not receiving their subscriptions and having no avenue to resolve their issues. Indeed, there is no contact information of any kind to be had beyond links to Interview’s social media pages. With a total print run said to be about 220,000, nearly all of which goes to subscribers and the remainder filling a small newsstand business, it seems there is a need for some kind of customer infrastructure to be put back in place. It’s also worth noting that the magazine hit a peak of nearly 945,000 Instagram followers in the wake of its bankruptcy filing, something Nikic boasted about in a memo touting the relaunch, but that number has since slipped by about 10,000. There are more than a few commenters on many posts calling out the magazine for its — hopefully — old habit of stiffing contributors and even losing loaned garments.
Some brand advertisers have also yet to return to the magazine, but there are said to be others coming in this year for the first time, like Dom Pérignon, either for branded content or typical print and digital ads. Recent issues have also featured high-profile fashion stars Virgil Abloh and Alessandro Michele, which can go a long way to helping people forget what all the fuss has been about.
But Interview’s start-up outlook doesn’t quite extend all the way through the product. So far, the magazine’s post-bankruptcy image has relied heavily on nostalgia and it’s said that a full redesign of print (set for six issues this year, with 2020 less certain) is in the future, which will push that element even more. The redesign is expected to bring back the look of Interview in its Seventies and Eighties heyday — when the artist Richard Bernstein was designing all of the covers — complete with a larger format and denser paper stock. The idea is to carve out a truly niche — and stable — space within media, instead of trying to compete with bigger titles.
Here’s hoping all of this results in everyone who works for Interview, this time around, getting paid.
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