PARTY PREVIEW: The smaller attendance and somber mood at Wednesday’s American Society of Magazine Editors’ annual meeting and members lunch was a likely harbinger of the atmosphere to come at the National Magazine Awards tonight. According to ASME president David Willey, the awards, as with many ASME events this year, will have fewer attendees than last year. In recent years, the ceremony has been a black-tie affair at Time Warner’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, with cocktails flowing from multiple bars and a lavish after party complete with a chocolate fondue fountain for all attendees. This year’s ceremony is cocktail attire, the after party is only open to ASME winners, and no chocolate fondue will bubble. “We did what we felt was appropriate for the time,” said Willey of the changes. The ceremony will still include some celebrity presenters, including Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa, “Ugly Betty” actress Becki Newton and the show’s producer Silvio Horta.
Wednesday’s lunch discussion at The Princeton Club with The New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, economist Mark Zandi and Fortune editor at large Allan Sloan further added to the sullen mood, with the three discussing coverage of the financial crisis on a panel moderated by former Money managing editor Eric Schurenberg, who is now editorial director of cbsmoneywatch.com. As for how the industry would look once a recovery began to improve matters, Zandi said growth would be slower than after past recessions in 1990 and 2001, in the zero to 5 percent range. He also suggested magazines targeting fiftysomething and twentysomething readers would have an edge when the recovery begins: according to statistics he unearthed, the largest age group of Americans — or potential magazine reading audiences — will be 49; the second largest 19.
ASME board members also took care of some housekeeping during the event: they reelected Willey, the editor in chief of Runner’s World, to his second term as president. Self editor in chief Lucy Danziger was elected to another term as treasurer. The board also appointed Peggy Northrop, editor of Reader’s Digest, to vice president and elected People managing editor Larry Hackett to the secretary post. Northrop takes over for outgoing vice president Robbie Myers, Elle’s vice president, brand content/editor in chief, while Hackett succeeds New York magazine editor in chief Adam Moss. Both Moss’ and Myers’ terms were up this spring — and incidentally both publishing companies the editors work for dropped out of ASME membership this year.
— Stephanie D. Smith
SPIN OFF AND PERHAPS MORE: Is Time Warner Inc. finally cutting its AOL business loose? In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it plans to spin off the ailing AOL division to shareholders, although it was noted the board has not made a final decision. During the first quarter, AOL revenues fell 23 percent to $867 million. Time Warner also reported first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, adding it has initiated talks with Google about acquiring back its 5 percent stake in AOL. In late January, Google requested AOL register the 5 percent equity interest for sale in an initial public offering. Now, Time Warner has the right to purchase Google’s stake for cash or shares of Time Warner stock, in lieu of the IPO.
As for Time Warner’s publishing segment, Time Inc., the division reported a 30 percent drop in ad revenue. The food, pharmaceuticals and automotive categories were particularly difficult during the quarter, and Jeff Bewkes, chairman and chief executive, reported that 15 percent of domestic ad revenue at Time Inc. is now coming from digital. He predicted a further shakeout in magazine publishing, but said the business isn’t as challenged as newspapers, since readership is growing, magazines have a national reach and they don’t rely on classified advertising. At the end of a call with analysts, which was largely about AOL and its Networks business, Bewkes avoided making any future claims to Time Inc.’s place in the company, adding, “Time Warner may well include publishing but we’re not making a religious statement about it either way at this point.”
Meredith Corp. also reported third-quarter earnings on Wednesday, with publishing ad revenues down 12 percent, to $132 million. Ad performance in seven of its top 10 categories improved, compared with the first half of fiscal 2009, including food and beverage, prescription and nonprescription drugs and household supplies. The company expects fourth-quarter ad revenues to be down approximately 12 percent.
— Amy Wicks