Cuts at Conde

For journalists, Conde Nast has been one silver lining in an otherwise gloomy cloud.  Everyone else might be struggling along on ever-more-meager pittances, but glossy Conde maintained the glamour of a bygone era, with luscious expense accounts and lavish salaries.  We watched Conde the way audiences in the Great Depression watched Hollywood's lavish spectacles about rich people:  jealously, but also with a certain glad hunger.

That era seems to be ending; Conde is joining the rest of us in the more ascetic future.  The struggling publishing giant has mandated big cuts at signature titles like Gourmet and Glamour.

As jittery as the building is going to be over looming layoffs, there is some relief in that it appears there are no imminent title closures.

"The McKinsey people are number crunchers," said one source. "They're going to tell you to get to a certain number. I keep hearing nothing is going to close."

The most likely scenario for some magazines over the next few weeks will be reducing frequency.

According to someone familiar with McKinsey's recommendations, the consultants were particularly interested in basic calculations in the ratio between edit pages and ad pages. A magazine like Gourmet, which in September had 40 ad pages versus 74 editorial pages, just barely squeaked above the minimum book requirement of 104 pages (compare that to Vogue, which had 427 ad pages versus 157 editorial pages in September). Gourmet is therefore a prime candidate for reducing frequency, a source said.

Meanwhile, it appears men's mag Details, oft-thought to be beleaguered, has been thrown a lifeline. However, since there are only about 35 staffers on the editorial side there, a 25 percent cut could be quite damaging.

Yet another source pointed out that even though there are no immediate plans to close down any magazines, a decision doesn't have to be made until the end of January, which is the end of the fiscal year. (The home-decor magazine Domino was shuttered on Jan. 28, 2009.)

Advertising has plummeted for most publications (although, of course, she noted modestly, the Atlantic actually recently enjoyed its best ad month ever).   When people aren't buying, it doesn't make sense to spend scarce dollars chasing fewer sales.  And, of course, the steady migration of readers to the internet continues--a venue where almost no one except Google has yet figured out how to make much money.  Conde, which lived by big, glossy advertising layouts, will now die by same.  I expect these aren't the last cuts we'll see before the economy recovers.