As magazine companies consolidate titles, fold or reinvent themselves under new management, there tends to be a common occurrence: Veteran editors are being traded in for their less expensive, more digitally savvy counterparts. With many of the old guard still years away from retirement age, the question is: What does life look like for an editor in chief after print?
There’s the consulting route. There’s the hopefully lucrative book deal — a year or two of writing and revising, inevitably followed by the shock of going from magazine time of planning a few months out to the slower pace of the book industry. There are boards to sit on and start-ups to advise.
But no matter what’s next, there always seems to be the realization that there are other exciting ways to tell stories that don’t involve keeping a publisher happy. Because aren’t all editors, after all, storytellers?
According to many former editors, the skills that made them good at running a magazine translate surprisingly well to other fields — something that may come as a relief to some in the magazine industry.
“I think the message that everyone has gotten is that all those things that you did, all those things that you learned, all those things that gave you energy and excitement — they are all done, finished, those doors are shut,” explained former Allure editor in chief Linda Wells, who became the chief creative officer of Revlon in February after a stint as a beauty consultant and contributing editor for New York Magazine’s The Cut. “But there are lots of ways to move all of that knowledge and experience into different fields. And they are as creative as what we used to do.”
Here, a look at some of the different routes former editors take — and how it helps your reputation.
In a different time, this may have been derided as selling out and going to the other side. But nowadays, it’s more likely to be viewed by the editorial world with a mixture of envy and hope. Wells may be the best example of this option. After 24 years as editor of Allure, she was abruptly let go from the Condé Nast beauty title in 2015. Wells made a swift comeback: Within months, New York’s The Cut had tapped her as its beauty editor at large and she was hired by Hearst to create beauty packages for the company’s prestige titles. Just a year later, Wells became the chief creative officer of Revlon, tasked with turning around the legacy makeup company.
According to Wells, her editorial chops serve her remarkably well. Although, she said, what she used to call “the reader” she now calls “the consumer.”
“We know how to connect and speak to our audience, visually and verbally. And that is really valuable. I think that is the magic ingredient of being an editor,” she said, “I think that skill is one that so many magazine editors honed for so many years, and commercial brands, whether it’s beauty or a hotel or an airline, don’t know that particular skill as well. The big happy surprise for me was realizing how valuable that skill is.”
Street cred: 0 to 10 (depends on the brand — LVMH, Estée Lauder 9; Wet ‘n’ Wild, Kmart 1)
Pay Rate: $$$$ (It’s called selling out for a reason)
Satisfaction level: 4 (On the one hand, it’s great not to answer to the business side. On the other hand, now you are the business side.)
The Book Deal
Ah, the book deal. It’s a classic. After all, how many editors spent years harboring the dream of writing without the pressure of regularly producing a regular product? Bookstores have no shortage of tomes penned by former editors. And it makes sense. They have years of stories to tell, a good sense of rhythm and pacing, and a healthy respect for deadlines. It isn’t hard to see why agents and book editors would be on board. Oh, and another perk? There are plenty of writers eager to cover the book launch — which makes for a happy book publicist.
Recent examples include former Seventeen editor Ann Shoket, whose female empowerment guide for Millennials, “The Big Life” came out earlier this year, former Details editor Dan Peres, currently at work on a memoir for HarperCollins, and former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who signed a contract with Simon & Schuster in 2015 for a book about the evolving state of the media industry and was subsequently seen sniffing around Vice.
Street cred: 5 to 8 (Depends on the imprint. Knopf or Riverhead? 9; self-publishing, 1)
Pay Rate: $ to $$ (And don’t forget your agent and the IRS get a cut)
Satisfaction level: 5 (You wrote a book! But if it goes well, you might have to write another one. And if it doesn’t, what next?)
Go West, young(ish) man (or woman). After leaving The New York Times Magazine in 2013, Hugo Lindgren found a gig at the intersection of journalism and entertainment, working with Mark Boal as president of Page 1, a production company backed by Megan Ellison’s Anapurna Pictures. Earlier this month, Page 1 announced the logical extension to documentary.
Hollywood has always been a draw for writers, from F. Scott Fitzgerald (although that didn’t exactly end well) to the husband/wife dream team of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne to mention all those Internet writers who pen their “Good-Bye to New York” essays on the flight to LAX. But Lindgren’s move proves that editors can make the jump, too.
Street cred: 10 (It’s kind of the dream)
Pay Rate: $$$ (Plus a lemon tree in your backyard)
Satisfaction: 6 to 8 (Depending on your yoga teacher)
The Editorial for Brands Route
Bill Phillips, the former Men’s Health editor in chief, who exited in 2016, has found a new home at Spartan, the company responsible for the grueling Spartan race. Phillips had helped Spartan develop its eponymous web site, and is working on developing content and new streams of revenue for the company.
“When I left Men’s Health, I talked to more traditional magazine brands about roles and over the course of a couple of months came to the conclusion that I wasn’t ready for that,” he said. The former editor explained that he kept thinking about why Burberry would need Vogue when it can reach an audience itself. “Every brand is dabbling in content marketing, even if it isn’t quite sure what it is,” Phillips said, adding that he realized that a good role for him would be “as a connector between brands and the audience they are trying to reach.”
Street cred: 3 to 5 (But at least it’s not native advertising)
Pay Rate: $$
Satisfaction: 2 (Is anyone who produces content ever really happy?)
Become a Consultant
“Consulting” is one of those titles that is vague enough to become a go-to cocktail party response when asked what you do. But it does involves projects, and a level of expertise. And, perhaps more importantly, it requires a sense of confidence, a way with buzzwords, and the ability to articulate a grand vision — all tools of the successful magazine editor.
InStyle’s former editorial director Ariel Foxman, who resigned from the Time Inc. title last July, is a good example of someone who has not only taken that path but one-upped it by denying that he is a consultant per se.
“A lot of people have asked me if I’m a consultant, and while the work I’m doing is consultative, for me it’s not about hanging a shingle and saying I’m open for business as a consultant,” he said. “It’s really about my desire to explore new ways where content drives audience engagement.”
Foxman is now on the board of GLAAD, an affiliate agent at the publishing agency Aevitas, where he is “looking at new ways that content can be created in the book/digital space”; consulting for the brand management and media firm Xcel, and working on a few other projects that he can’t yet disclose.
“After having worked in magazines, I really wanted to explore all the new ways that content is being produced,” he said. “My efforts in the past few months are really around a handful of projects where I’m able to work on content strategy and execution.”
Street cred: 0 to 5 (It sounds like a thing and gets you out of the apartment, but it depends on who you consult for.)
Pay rate: $ to $$$
Satisfaction: It’s really up to you. Just like everything else about consulting.