BoSacks: Why Do Good Magazines Die?
Chuck Townsend, president and CEO of Condé Nast Publications, said in a statement, “Our investment in House & Garden throughout the years has been substantial, and we no longer believe it is a viable business investment for the company.” Well, that is surely his call to make, but the public death by hanging of an old and cherished lady of publishing with a fan base of almost a million paid copies a month sets the stage for a review of what constitutes “success” in the magazine world, and, I think, makes a case for the impending doom of megalithic publishing empires.
House & Garden also had about 800 advertising pages per year—better numbers than many of its competitors can boast, and dream numbers for almost any publisher in this day and age. If I had those stats, I guarantee I wouldn’t pull the plug, but rather find the leakage in the revenue stream.
I will assume that the operating costs were, from Condé Nast’s perspective, too high to handle for long-term sustainability. But what the heck does that mean? To me, it is proof positive that they haven’t the slightest idea what it means to be entrepreneurial. The time is now, if ever, for all publishers to focus on the entrepreneurial side of our business.
Sure, there is tough competition out there, and some of that competition is in the house of Condé Nast itself. So, what? What better way to command the market than to establish a beachhead with your own titles? And that’s the thing—large corporations can’t/don’t/won’t be fast, smart and agile. The fire of quick action is not in the belly of the corporate beast. And in today’s world, corporate speed means life.
Condé Nast has everything a publisher could dream of: 100 years of positive branding, and a sweet printing contract based on high-volume, multititle efficiencies and paper being purchased as cheaply as by anyone in the business. It also must have had a flexible publishing perspective, one that could adjust with the economy and economics of the times. If the economy is slipping, then so glides your editorial message to your constituency. House & Garden had almost a million paying readers, just waiting for its insights and instructional visions.