NEW YORK — Can glossy luxury supplements help save newspapers? The Wall Street Journal is about to find out.
This story first appeared in the March 7, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Days from now, the Journal will take prototypes for its upcoming quarterly glossy on the road, making a pitch to the coveted luxury advertiser resting on two major points: that the demographics of the paper are ripe for luxury marketers, and that new editor Tina Gaudoin possesses the experience and contacts to convincingly speak to the high-end audience.
In her first interview since being named editor of WSJ., as the magazine is known, Gaudoin cited one maxim she wants to abide by: “Don’t disrespect rich people’s respect for money.”
Being acquired by bigger media conglomerate News Corp. might cushion Dow Jones & Co. from the harsh realities of declining print newspaper advertising revenue, but it’s money that’s at stake here, too. In the third quarter of 2007, the last available numbers, advertising revenue for the U.S. print edition declined 2.9 percent. (As a News Corp. subsidiary, the Journal no longer has to publicly release advertising performance, a spokesman for Dow Jones said.)
Besides jibing with Rupert Murdoch’s goal of competing with The New York Times on all fronts, the launch of WSJ. could give revenue a boost from advertisers who prefer its glossy, oversize format and consumer coverage, as has been the case at the Times with the T magazines. “We never needed to convince people that the brand wasn’t what they needed,” said Dow Jones chief revenue officer Michael Rooney. “They just never wanted to be in newsprint.”
Though the magazine was conceived preacquisition, Murdoch and his surrogates handpicked Gaudoin, who has edited at British and American fashion magazines. She most recently launched Luxx for the Murdoch property The Times of London. Since she joined, Pursuits was jettisoned as the working title, and the format has gone oversized. Issues are expected in September and December, and the plan is to eventually go monthly.
Gaudoin said the magazine would be broad in scope, naming, as examples, commissioning your own artwork, managing a staff, and coverage of jewelry, fashion, cars and gadgets. (The magazine is aimed at men and women. About a third of Journal readers are female.) The size of her staff has yet to be determined, she said, though it will likely be a mix of magazine veterans and existing Journal staffers. Nor could she say how large of a budget there would be for luxury magazine indulgences, like name-brand photographers and on-location shoots.
Rooney chose his words carefully. “We were a midsized company with limited resources doing an outstanding job, and now we have the resources to really push it.” He said that for Murdoch and the Journal’s publisher Robert Thomson, “it’s top of mind,” adding, “They have stressed in my presence the need to get it right…And that usually means making the proper investment.”
The Journal’s forays into “Business of Life” coverage are a decade old, likely muting the potential for culture shock within the paper’s more traditional contingent. Still, a consumer magazine, particularly one aimed at the high-end, brings its own set of ethical standards that are often significantly different from news reporting — though Gaudoin and Rooney don’t see any conflict.
“Why shouldn’t we have the same level of reporting within the luxury brands’ framework that you have at the Journal at the business level?” said Gaudoin. “Why should the reporting not be as good, as intelligent, as detailed, as behind-the-scenes, as insider, as it would be in the Journal proper?”
WSJ. is hunting for a publisher, which Rooney said would be likely drawn from the magazine world and named within the next month. Jamie Friedman Altschul, who had been named the associate publisher of the magazine, returned to Condé Nast Publications about a month ago to work with her old boss at Vanity Fair, Lou Cona, in corporate sales. Sources said those in talks with the Journal included executives ousted from Condé Nast in January. (Condé Nast is also WWD’s corporate parent.)
Unlike T, with which it will plainly compete, WSJ.’s circulation of 800,000 will be targeted to the 15 largest metro markets, including subscribers with a median household income of $300,000 (15 percent higher than the Journal’s overall), plus a small amount of newsstand distribution. (For would-be readers shut out, all the material will be online.) Another 180,000 copies will be distributed in the Asian and European editions of the paper. As with Time magazine’s Style & Design spin-off, the strategy hones the demographic profile while keeping production costs down.
The Journal said it has 25 committed advertisers, just over half of which are already advertising in the paper, but said they wished to remain unnamed for now.
While some luxury clients have expressed excitement over the past few months, there is some skepticism. “I don’t see full relevance…The Wall Street Journal reader is going to the newspaper for vital information,” said one media planner who specializes in luxury and requested anonymity. “You can’t just hand them a free luxury magazine and hope they’re going to read it.”
The Journal’s argument is that its brand’s insider access and resources offer something other luxury magazines can’t, and that, in the words of its own press materials, readers will “have the convenience of not having to go beyond one of their core media sources to satisfy their desire for this kind of visual experience and information.”