JANE’S GOODBYE: Condé Nast’s decision to fold Jane magazine early Monday was, despite a well-respected editor and a publisher brought in for a turnaround, widely considered inevitable for a magazine long on life support. A total of 60 staffers, including business and editorial, are affected, and though editor in chief Brandon Holley and publisher Carlos Lamadrid are assuredly leaving the company, the official line is that jobs will be sought within the company for the rest.
With both advertising and circulation woes, executives at the company said it had given up on Jane filling out its portfolio by reaching a twentysomething female demographic. Sources said there had been no talk of replacing Holley, though the future of Lamadrid, the magazine’s third publisher since 2005, had been in question. The magazine was put on serious watch starting in March, and top brass made their final decision between Thursday and Saturday, just after returning from vacation.
After the news, Holley spent the afternoon making calls on behalf of her staff, and was said to be stunned by the closure, believing that the magazine was in positive turnaround and that six more months would have made the difference.
The coming September issue was 25 to 35 ad pages below last year’s 121.52, according to a source close to the decision-making, and while that figure had been up 11.5 percent from the year before, it had already been considered a disappointment. (First-bound copies of the August issue were already in, but the closed September issue, with Naomi Watts on the cover, will be neither printed nor shipped.) And while Jane’s ad count grew 20 percent in the first half of this year, it was coming off a 41 percent decline from the same period in 2006. Moreover, an informed source said that “an overwhelming majority” of Jane’s advertising came from company-wide group buys, and even then, advertisers with multititle commitments sometimes declined to place in Jane. (Lamadrid contended, “A lot of ads were unique to Jane, like Billabong, Roxy, that kind of stuff.”) Lamadrid said, “It’s a decision that was made. It is what it is. We have to deal with it.”
Indeed, George Janson, managing partner and director of print of Mediaedge:cia said, “There have been a lot of questions for some time about the magazine and its vitality. Circulation was the main concern.”
The magazine was redesigned in September 2004 by founder Jane Pratt, then twice more by Holley in March 2006 and this April. But newsstand sales continued to sink 14.8 percent in the first half of last year, and 20.4 percent in the second. Total circulation in the second half of last year grew 1.9 percent, to 713,581, but partly on the strength of 152,800 verified copies, which are largely giveaways, or public place distribution.
The closure plausibly came as a surprise to Holley, who was set to leave Monday for Uganda with Natalie Portman for a story in the December-January issue, and reportedly had met the Friday before with vice president for editorial operations Rick Levine to discuss the Web site budget for 2010.
After Holley and Lamadrid were told, Condé Nast Publications president chief executive officer Charles Townsend, executive vice president for human resources Jill Bright and editorial director Tom Wallace addressed the staff, Lamadrid said.
Condé Nast Publications chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. is said to have seriously considered pulling the plug back in July 2005, at Pratt’s departure, but changed his mind. For her part, Pratt, who now hosts a talk radio show on Sirius, said she was sad but not surprised. “I left with the idea hoping that it would do really well…[but] I was not involved with the selection of the editor in chief. So from the moment [my departure] was announced, I didn’t have anything to do with the magazine,” she said. “At that point, once I saw where it was going, no, I didn’t think it would last forever.” She added, “I think that it became a lot like the other magazines out there.”
Throughout the past year, Jane’s editor and publisher tried to counter persistent doubts about the magazine’s future by positioning it as newly relevant to a zeitgeist change among twentysomethings from, in the words of its marketing materials, “antiestablishment/angry/slackers” to “pretty/fun/optimistic.” They insisted that the long-term corporate investment in the title and its Web site indicated no plans to shutter it, and Wallace assured WWD in August that the company was pleased with Jane’s metrics. Even through the difficult year that followed, Jane’s executives had privately pointed to House & Garden, a title that the company had allowed to flounder for years without shutting it down a second time. But, unlike House & Garden, one of the original Condé Nast magazines, Jane was something of a stepchild in the reorganized Condé Nast, a small title launched under Fairchild Publications.
And, whereas previously, business units under Advance Publications such as Fairchild could report results to Newhouse and Townsend as a whole, offsetting their weaknesses with their successes, the reorganization has made each title stand alone, exposing particular vulnerabilities and making action unavoidable, sources indicated. — Irin Carmon and Stephanie D. Smith
SOBERING UP: Proof that a magazine’s death can come even before it launches, Bauer Publishing has scrapped plans to launch Cocktail, its new twentysomething magazine set to make its debut in September. Cocktail would have been a weekly title with a cover price of $2.49. The company cited “uncertain conditions in the single-copy marketplace” as reason for its demise. Though Bauer has built a successful franchise on its stable of low-cost, newsstand-heavy magazines, from Woman’s World to its celebrity weeklies In Touch and Life & Style, getting another low-cost title in the marketplace may have proven more difficult than before. Wholesalers have become frustrated about the difficulty in eeking out profits from magazines with cover prices below $2.50, according to reports from The New Single Copy, a magazine circulation newsletter. Additionally, some distributors have been asking for guarantees of payment up front from Bauer in order to distribute the magazine, according to one publishing executive. Though guarantees aren’t unusual, “it can happen, especially if someone is unsure that something will sell,” said the publishing executive. Executives from Bauer declined comment on distribution.
Aside from its distribution challenges, Bauer chief executive officer Hubert Boehle was said to have been less than thrilled with the first test issues of the magazine. Though content was typical of a women’s service title — relationship advice, fashion and beauty trends, health and nutrition news — fused with some elements of celebrity, insiders say the editorial direction had turned heavier on the Hollywood news. A spokesperson for the magazine had no comment. — S.D.S.