SCOTT FREE: Was it a conspiracy? That’s what some attendees of the American Magazine Conference were semiseriously muttering Tuesday after the convention’s keynote speaker, Wal-Mart president and chief executive officer Lee Scott, was allowed to skip the question-and-answer portion of his address on the excuse the program was running behind schedule. Scott, whose company is responsible for 10 to 15 percent of U.S. magazine sales, talked about the effects of high gas prices on Wal-Mart’s business; about the retailer’s grudging concessions to New York sensibilities necessitated by its new contemporary apparel line, Metro 7, and about its commitment to razor-thin profit margins. “Most of what we do is driven by the fact that we make 3 cents on the dollar,” he said. “As we travel, we ask our employees to take the ink pens from the hotel and use them at work.”
If there’s somebody who can sympathize with Scott’s appreciation of the penny, it’s Martha Stewart, who took the stage Tuesday for a conversation with Susan Lyne, president and ceo of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith. Stewart related how, as an inmate in a federal penitentiary, she earned 12 cents an hour for her labor. “It took me 650 hours just to earn enough money to buy a pair of boots I needed for the snow,” she said. But for the most part, she referred to her incarceration only in euphemisms — i.e. “Alderson” and “the legal problem.” (Smith played along, mentioning Stewart’s “unplanned sabbatical.”) Stewart also said she was happy to no longer be ceo of her company: “One thing that’s been great is to have someone else to remember all the numbers.”
The burden of speaking uncomfortable truths fell to legendary adman George Lois, who spoke at lunch. Lois, who created many of Esquire’s iconic covers during the Sixties (three of which were among the top 10 magazine covers of the past 40 years, as determined by an American Society of Magazine Editors contest), decried the supremacy of the “sycophantic” celebrity profile, which, he said, invariably yields “yet another kiss-ass cover that sits unsold at the newsstand.” Afterward, Real Simple managing editor Kristin van Ogtrop declared herself inspired: “I’m going to do a cover of a closet with a bomb in it.”
— Jeff Bercovici
SEVENTEEN MINUTES OF FAME: Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black hosted the corporate equivalent of a pajama party in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on Monday night. Black invited fellow Hearst executives Michael Clinton, John Hartig, George Green and Deb Shriver to her hotel room at the Wyndham El Conquistador, where they all were staying for the American Magazine Conference, to watch the first episode of Seventeen’s MTV reality show, “Miss Seventeen.”
Clearly, they weren’t the only ones watching: The debut was first among 12- to 34-year-olds for its time slot on basic cable, excluding sports programming.
On Monday in New York, Seventeen editor in chief Atoosa Rubenstein, the magazine’s staff and MTV executives gathered for previewing cocktails at Aer, though only three of the 17 contestants who competed in the series for a scholarship and an internship at Seventeen were on hand to celebrate. “These girls are still in school, so the only ones that were there were local,” Rubenstein explained Tuesday.
Those local girls may have been at a disadvantage in the competition — of the three contestants who were at the party, two were eliminated in the first episode. “This isn’t a show about pretty girls. It’s really about accomplishment,” said Rubenstein.
Make that accomplishment and teenage bad behavior. “The most compelling thing about the show is reasons they’re eliminated,” said Rubenstein. “There’s a lot of fighting, there’s a lot of gossiping. Sometimes you’re just dying watching the house, because you can see them all turn on one girl.”
OK, make that accomplishment, bad behavior and Seventeen brand extensions. “One of the great things about the show: When those girls are sleeping in their beds, and they get mad and pull the sheets up over their heads, those are Seventeen sheets from J.C. Penney,” said Rubenstein. “We’re in a great place. We’re generating great Seventeen editorial product, but we’re also building our brand.”
Asked how she felt about seeing herself portrayed in a small-screen docudrama, Rubenstein said: “The thing you have to remember, I’m an executive producer so I’m not being edited in a way that’s not true to me. I saw the dailies. I got used to constantly seeing myself on film. Besides, the show isn’t about me, it’s about the girls.”
TRUMAN’S RETURN: Remember James Truman‘s art and culture magazine? The one that was shelved by Condé Nast, prompting Truman to step down as editorial director in January of this year, only to be revisited by Condé Nast executives six months later when they called him back in to discuss it, shortly before they abandoned the idea altogether? Well, Truman might be getting it after all — just not at Condé Nast.
Truman has been named chief executive officer and managing editor of LTB Holding Ltd., Canadian millionaire publisher Louise MacBain‘s company, which puts out 20 periodical magazines, including Art + Auction, Spoon and Modern Painters, according to a statement issued Tuesday. His “appointment coincides with the planned phase two launch of Artinfo.com, LTB’s online cultural platform for the arts, and the development of several new international cultural publications,” the statement said. It did not indicate where he’ll be based.