Conde's $10,000 Reward for Good Ideas is a Good Idea!

Conde Nast, the titanic and tottering publishing giant, is offering $10,000 every quarter to the employee with the best idea about improving the company. This idea is getting snarked all over the place (John Kolbin's Observer piece is pretty funny) but I can't seem to muster much cynicism about this idea. In fact ... I think it's a great idea.

Congratulations, Si Newhouse! Somebody give this guy $10,000!

Last year, you might remember the company paid McKinsey consultants millions of dollars to skulk the hallways of 4 Times Square and perform a pre-mortem of its finances. The whole media world could smell the rot. But Conde needed McKinsey to diagnose the gangrene publicly and recommend exactly what Conde would have done anyway: Announce a 25% cut across the company.

Tapping your in-house resources to actually get new ideas seems like a better use of company money. Ten thousand dollars means very little to Conde Nast as a company and very much indeed to a Conde Nast employee not used to receiving a 20% salary bonus in exchange for a memo. A sweet incentive unleashed upon a smart media company is a potent combo.

My biggest concern isn't that this move seems desperate (really, who cares at this point?). My biggest concern is that there's no guarantee that Conde will reward the right ideas. Indeed the simplest ideas -- including: Charge for more online content; Change the New Yorker and Vanity Fair websites to promote their amazing blogs; Keep mag covers glossy but change to thinner paper in the books you send out to subscribers to cut down on production costs -- are probably better than the revolutionary-seeming ideas that might catch Si's eye.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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