Saturday, October 31, 2009

No One Ever Comes Trick-or-Treating at Our House

I think it's been over a decade since I've handed out candy. But I always have to buy it just in case. So on Monday morning, I always end up bring a couple unopened bags of very nice candy (yeah, I don't skimp) to work and feeding my colleagues.

Just thought you'd be fascinated by that.

"Boo," by the way.

Death of Another Gay Magazine: The Advocate

Gay news-and-features magazine The Advocate will be folding, transforming into a 32-page insert in sister publication Out. That's the word from Queerty, which adds that the move follows "massive" layoffs at the title. "Some freelance and contract writers and photogs, meanwhile, have gone unpaid for months; some have threatened to stop working entirely until their balances are paid," reports Queerty.
Youch. I once briefly worked at a small magazine publisher that had been unable to pay some of its freelancers for about nine months. My short tenure there -- I jumped ship to a stable company after just two months -- was made sad by the constant hectoring from writers with very legitimate complaints about payments. Some of them needed it for rent or mortgage payments, and the poor accounts payable staffer had the unenviable job of fielding these requests/pleas/threats and paying the most urgent of them.

That company limped along for another couple years before it finally sold its assets. But it sounds like The Advocate's life will be shorter. (Owner Regent/Here Media already shuttered two of its gay porn titles, Men and Freshmen.)

Journalist and blogger (and he knows the difference) Matthew Rettenmund shares some thoughts on the loss of this long-lasting magazine and what it means to the gay community: "The Advocate has been around for 40 years chronicling gay news, following politics, tracing fads, providing a means by which stars (gay and straight) could directly reach a captive LGBT (not just G and not just L) audience. The death of The Advocate feels like a symptom of the admittedly slow death of 'gay' as an identity."

Frankly, I don't know if I'll miss The Advocate. It was only an occasional buy for me. I'm of the generation that did not go through Stonewall and that was still ignorant of my own homosexuality during the height (depths?) of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Nonetheless, I can still appreciate those who came before me and took on much bigger anti-gay boogeymen than I have had to face. But my intellectual response has always been to reject the magazine's simplistic attachment to outdated gay politics of the 1970s.

That said, Rettenmund is correct: The surviving media -- straight and gay alike -- is not prepared to cover gay topics well, and are unlikely to being to do so just because The Advocate has died. A new magazine is needed, but I'll be darned if I know what it is.

Friday, October 30, 2009

China Blocks Access to Berlin Wall Anniversary Twitter Page

When I was in Berlin for the second time, a one-week visit in March 2001, I was only slightly luckier than when I visited a couple months earlier, at least when it comes to finding remaining portions of the now-defunct Berlin Wall. Despite plenty of time spent in the very impressive (historically speaking) government quarter in Berlin Mitte -- the central area of the capital city -- and the nearby Unter den Linden or the beautiful Tiergarten, I saw nothing of the remains of the Berlin Wall. The closest I came was a visit to former East Berlin to interview someone for Internet World magazine, whose offices were one block away from Mauer Park ("mauer" is German for "wall," so you get the memorial idea of the park, right?).

But I don't recall being able to find anything that looked like that hated wall. Objectively, that's probably a good thing. Germans are in no danger of forgetting about the division of their country in the Cold War aftermath of World War II. And, frankly, finding remants of it wasn't my top priority. When I travel, I prefer to get off the beaten path and wander into lesser-known neighborhoods and find restaurants and bookstores along the streets and just stop in to see what I'll find.

It was a nice trip to what has become a normal (thank goodness) city.

So the news that China has been blocking a Twitter page dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall seems like one more example of China acting like a hyper-sensitive child. Apparently, China's autocratic rulers were discomfited because Chinese were using the Twitter page to voice their not-so-nice views of the Chinese Communist government. Wonder which government will be most bothered by Twitter -- China or Iran?

Hmmm, maybe China's just upset that they're going to stop getting free money from Germany under the new government.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bon Appétit Gobbles up Gourmet subscribers

Interesting short article on Min Online about how Bon Appétit magazine will absorb the 850,000 subscribers from fellow Condé Nast magazine Gourmet, which recently was canceled. BA will boost its rate base a bit, while still giving advertisers a freebie boost.

The Min article has some good info on Condé Nast's reputation for cannibalizing dead magazine subscribers to get temporary circulation gains.

Yay, the Recession's Over, but Good Luck in the Job Market

Hooray, the recession is officially over. Hooray, our 401(k)s have recovered. As for the unemployed (and we're mainly talking about former business magazine staffers, apparently), not so good.

The economy grew by 3.5 percent in the third quarter (July-September) of 2009, and experts expect it to grow by about 3 percent in 2010. The Q3 boost was higher than economists had predicted, and it was helped aloft by the stimulus spending and incentives, such as the Cash-for-Clunkers car trade-in program. I'd love to learn whether this vindicates government stimulus spending in an economic crisis. I know plenty of people on both sides will argue the case, but I mean I'm interested in people who know what they're talking about and who've really studied the matter giving their verdict. My half-educated assumption is that this is somewhat of a vindication. I just wish there was more than Fox News or MSNBC shouting heads to explore the question. Probably the kind of informed explanation I'm hoping for can only be given with much passage of time.

In the meantime, it's important that 401(k) retirement accounts have recovered to break-even or better since the start of this economic debacle. After all, for people my age (41) and younger, that is our retirement account. Companies don't offer pensions any longer, and Social Security is not likely to be around when we retire. But I hope this past year inspires more people in this age range to start saving more, put more into long-range conservative investments, and stock up on canned food and Ramen noodles.

Forbes Layoffs Worse than Expected: About 100 -- SO FAR

Well, I wrote earlier that this would be a bad week to be working at Forbes magazine, but I didn't know it would be this bad. The company cut about 100 people from its print and online sides, and the rumor is that the cutting isn't finished.

Dan Frommer notes that the staff is only about 200 ("only" for a large magazine, that is). Does that mean the staff is now only about 100? Or is 200 now all that is left from an initial 300? One wonders just how bad are the finances at the business magazine.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free Download of Stargate Digital Magazine

Titan magazines has produced a digital preview edition of its official Stargate Magazine -- a licensed magazine devoted to the multi-series Stargate science fiction TV franchise. It's a 23-page, full-color magazine (yes, only in the digital world can you have a 23-page publication) that is available for a free download from Titan's web site.

It's a smart marketing move. I'm no Stargate TV fan, but I'd like to see more of this kind of distribution to gain attention for magazines, both digital and print magazines.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tatler -- the 300-Year-Old Magazine

So you think you're doing well because your magazine is 10 years old? Ha! The UK's Tatler magazine, published by Condé Nast, is celebrating its 300th anniversary.

Wikipedia puts a bit of context around this. There have apparently been a number of magazines using the Tatler name, and each claims to be the successor to the previous one. So it's not a single, uninterrupted run. Still, in this era of magazine deaths and rebirths and layoffs, let's just celebrate the three-century-old publication and not look too closely at the details.

Oh, and there is, inexplicably, a Russian edition of Tatler. Nothing against Russia, but of all the nations in the world, I'd have expected Tatler's only foreign edition to be elsewhere.

More Layoffs: It's a Bad Week to Be Working at Forbes

The New York Times reports this morning that business magazine Forbes is going through another round of layoffs. This follows about 100 people who were laid off by the company in the past year. Some, a spokesperson told the paper, were laid off yesterday, but layoffs will continue throughout the week. (Note to HR people: Don't stretch out layoffs. Do them in one batch on one day. Otherwise, people spend the entire week worrying about being laid off. Kills productivity and morale.)

The culprit is advertising – not circulation, which reportedly has held steady even during this deep recession and despite the supposed uber-supremacy of digital media.

So it's a bad week to be working at Forbes -- though I suppose next week will be a good week to be working at Forbes, since that will mean you kept your job. But on an even wider scale, it's been a bad year to be working at business magazines, with Portfolio closingBusinessWeek downsizing and being sold, and Fortune reducing frequency.

Does Forbes part-owner Bono know about this?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sen. Franken scores point for health care facts

This video has been making the rounds, getting a lot of attention because the senator from Minnesota who was supposed to be nothing more than a comedian is showing himself to be a man who knows his facts -- and can wield them effectively in a fight.

In this clip, he takes on an analyst from the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. People's reactions to this video probably are colored by their own views on health-care reform -- including mine; I'm for it, and I think it's scandalous that we let so many people die or go bankrupt trying not to die in this great country. Franken acquits himself well, and I hope other senators are thinking that maybe they should bone up on the facts, too, because they might not get beaten up by crazies at their town hall meetings next time if they actually had confidence in their statements.

A personal note: I write this as a former Hudson Institute employee. I worked there as a (very junior) editor in the early 1990s, when I was fresh out of college. Since that time, the think tank has moved steadily further to the right, losing, I think, much of the contrarian and libertarian viewpoints it once championed and becoming just another right-wing think tank. I'm sad to see that happen.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Harlan Ellison Wins "City on the Edge of Forever" Suit

The long-fought suit over merchandising and other rights to Harlan Ellison's great "City on the Edge of Forever" episode of Star Trek has been ruled in Ellison's favor, reports Slice of Sci Fi.

Ellison sued Paramount Pictures over the various spinoff merchandising to his story, which regularly ranks as one of the -- if not the -- best episode of the Trek series. He also sued the Writers Guild of America for not living up to its duties to defend his interests.

Ellison sued for the whopping price of ... wait for it ... $1, plus costs.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What Was Lost in The New York Times' Hugh Hefner Article

The New York Times published a profile of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner titled (and I'm sure the editors are still patting themselves on the back for this) "The Loin in Winter: Hefner Reflects and Grins." It's well worth a read (and Hefner tweeted positively about it).

Still, one thing kept coming back to me. The article's overwhelming focus is on sex and gossip. Only at the end of the article do we get a sense that Hefner himself thinks that there are other aspects of his life -- I'd suggest his pioneering role in supporting gay rights or in confronting racism -- are being overshadowed by a focus on sex.

After all (as perhaps only a gay blogger can still write), Hefner's legacy was not to make sex the be-all and end-all of life or even of Playboy. What he has indicated is that sex is a part of life, is healthy, and shouldn't be excluded it.

He notes at the end of the Times article, "“We just literally live in a very different world and I played a part in making it that way,” he said. “Young people have no idea about that.”

Chalk up another example of media being too ill-informed to tell the story that they should be telling.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Philipp Rösler: Germany to Get New Health Minister

Exciting news (well, exciting to international news geeks like me) out of Berlin: The Vietnam-born Dr. Philipp Rösler will become the country's new health minister in the CDU-FDP coalition government currently being assembled, reports German newsweekly Der Spiegel.

Rösler is a member of the liberal (in European terms; in American terms, it's libertarian) FDP, which was the big winner in the recent federal elections in Germany. He is currently the economics minister of the state of Lower Saxony (in German: Niedersachsen).

The 36-year-old politician is noteworthy not only for his many accomplishments (medical doctor, and a rocket-like rise through the ranks of the FDP) but because he was born in Vietnam and came to Germany at a very young age, where he was raised by adoptive parents -- who've got to be pretty darned proud of their son. (German tabloid Bild calls him "the shooting star of the FDP.")

We've heard endless talk in the United States about how we're the only country where a racial minority could rise so high in the political sphere. In our case, we've got Barack Obama as president. Germany's got Rösler, and I suspect we'll see more of him as he continues to rise. Give him time.

(Photo courtesy Philipp Rösler web site.)

Latest Magazine Intake: Fantastic Man, ESPN, Die Zeit, GQ Italia, New Scientst

Yesterday, between an expensive trip to a local magazine store and the arrival of two subscription publications, I got six new periodicals.

Fantastic Man (a first-time purchase), ESPN (a rare purchase), Die Zeit (technically a newspaper, but it includes two magazines and is a weekly), GQ Italia (a first-time purchase -- it is the giant anniversary issue of that foreign edition, and no, I don't read Italian), and New Scientist and Chicago (both subscriptions).

It will be interesting to see if any of the new purchases become repeat buys for me.

Now Fortune Magazine Makes Big Cuts, Reduces Frequency by 25 Percent

Business magazine giant Fortune has joined the club of publications making swingeing reductions in output. The Wall Street Journal reports that the magazine will produce 18 issues next year, down from 25.

Nothing new here, at least in the sense that issue reductions have been made at The Advocate, Esquire, Playboy, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and practically everywhere else. I do, however, hope these reductions are only temperary. I suspect, nonetheless, that many of them will be permanent.

For anyone who shares my desires, there are both troubling and promising words in these comments in the WSJ article:

John Huey, a former Fortune editor who now oversees editorial operations at many Time Inc. magazines, said consumers didn't care how often Fortune is published, and that many of them didn't even know Fortune comes out every other week. Executives decided it was more important for Fortune to be more visible on the Web, where the magazine may add staffers. The magazine itself will become more of a lush-looking premium product. Fortune plans to increase the minimum number of editorial pages in each issue. "We're going to be putting out fewer magazines, but we're going to be investing in the print product we have to make them better magazines," Mr. Huey said.

Consumers don't care how often the magazine is published? If that's the case, your readers don't like your product very much. I, personally, hate to see my favorite periodicals come out less often. I want more of the magazines I read, not less.

On the good side, Huey's comments echo what's said elsewhere in the WSJ article, specifically that the magazine will increase its emphasis on quality long-form journalism. Great move. That's what will keep people coming back to even a less-frequent magazine, and it's a far better move to make than what many (most?) magazines have done to respond to competition from the internet, which is to shorten articles, make them "hipper," and dumb-down the content. Score one more point for Bob Guccione Jr.

I guess in today's marketplace (or, more accurately, with today's MBAs who lead many media organizations), we aren't going to get a publication that gives us more issues and more pages and more quality. We only get one, not all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Playboy Reduces Rate Base: Why It Matters -- and Why It's Good

I'd heard the news was coming for months, but it was rather funny to read the first official notice in a tweet by Hugh Hefner, founder and editor of Playboy magazine. At 3:31 pm on October 20, Hefner tweeted: "We're reducing Playboy magazine's rate base to increasingly focus on quality over quantity as we did half a century ago."

A minute later, he tweeted ("twoth"?): "Playboy continues to be the most popular, most influential men's magazine in the world with 27 foreign language editions." and then: "Playboy magazine is the flagship of a brand now recognized around the world, reaching the largest audience in its history."

So what happened? 

(Actually, I rather liked his tweet later in the day: "After 25 years as CEO at Playboy, daughter Christie is now a frequent presence on MSNBC & CNN. Makes a father proud.")

For you non-magazine-geeks, the "rate base" is the minimum number of copies sold (and subscribed) that a magazine promises to advertisers. If you say you deliver at least 1 million copies and the actual amount falls below that number, then you usually have to provide a make-good (rebate) to the advertiser. Lots of magazines have been reducing their rate bases in recent years. Newsweek did it earlier this year, and in the process revented itself a bit to play in the thought-leader place dominated by The Economist of late. Others have, too, such as TV Guide.

Mediaweek reports that Playboy is slashing its rate base by 38 percent, down to 1.5 million. Not only that: The January and February issues will be combined, as it did with the July and August issues. As an editor/publisher who had to combine his July and August, and November and December issues, I can sympathize with that (hopefully) short-term measure in these economic crisis times. But what about the rate-base drop? Don't all publishers want their circulation to be as high as possible?

Sure. If I had a magazine that could attract more than 7 million buyers, as Playboy did at its very height in the early 1970s, I could charge advertisers a market premium. But this isn't the 1970s; many magazines are in crisis, and everyone who used to buy magazines but who didn't really want to has fled to the internet. Or to Sarah Palin. But everyone who appreciates magazines -- and the number is significant, and not necessarily decreasing, as some claim -- wants a magazine they can really read, that delivers value, that brings in-depth writing and pictures to them. When Playboy is good, it is really good in that sense. When Playboy is not good in that sense, it's just another normal magazine.

I remember a copy of Playboy I bought from a used bookstore a few years ago. It was from the very late 1950s or early 1960s; I don't remember which. Either way, long before I was born. But it was a copy intended to be included in an ad kit (a package sent to lure potential advertisers), and it included a bound-in special message from the magazine boasting to advertisers that Playboy charged a relatively high cover price -- and buyers paid it -- because the magazine wasn't afraid to make its readers pay for what they get. This is part of the never-ending argument in the magazine industry over whether magazines should get their revenue primarily from advertising or from circulation; I fall in the latter category. What Playboy was really saying those many decades ago, when advertising was beginning to pour into that publishing phenomenon, was that it was going to have its cake and eat it, too: It wasn't selling the magazine cheaply to readers, and advertisers wouldn't reach those readers cheaply, either. Gotta respect a magazine that goes right for the throat like that.

So, even though publishers would almost always prefer a higher circulation, a smaller one can work for it if it sells it the right way: quality over quantity, indeed.

Playboy's stock has been rising in the past couple weeks. It's not at stratospheric levels in any way, but it's out of the danger zone, where it was earlier this year when it had to release a statement acknowledging that it was placed on notice by the stock exchange for falling below $75 million in market cap. And today, after the announced rate base cuts, the stock rose again, just a smidgeon. Some of its recent rise probably has to do with the huge amount of media attention received by the November issue of the magazine, due to its featuring cartoon character Marge Simpson on the cover (and in a PG-rated pictorial inside). But that's what covers should do: Bring people to the magazine and the brand.

And if there's a Steven King poem inside, that's just all to the better.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fake or Not, Balloon Boy Had the Right Idea, just not Zeppelin Enough

Okay, so it's looking pretty obvious that the Balloon Boy saga was a fake. But issues of shameless self-promotion and bad parenting aside, I think a lot of the focus on the Balloon Boy non-adventure was because many people had in the backs of their minds the thought, "That'd be pretty cool to float above the earth like that."

Boys in balloons have happened before. The Bay Area has its own case, from 1964, reports And USA Today tells us about a boy who used to be attached to a balloon by his father and sent aloft.

Still, I'm not a fan of putting boys in balloons and sending them into the air, though under the right circumstances, the kid's probably having the time of his life. (It sure beats hiding in an attic for five hours.) But I do like the idea of traveling by balloon -- big balloons, zeppelins. And I'm still waiting for that to happen.

One of my favorite covers of the old Future Life magazine as the December 1979 issue (#15), which featured a painting of a dirigible docking on a tall building and the headline "Return of the Airship." Inside, writers James Holahan and Adam Starchild wrote about efforts to popularize a new generation of dirigibles. "Traveling by airship is flying in the truest sense," the authors write. "This is bird-like flight, with a sense of freedom and relaxation, as opposed to the sensation of being hurtled through the air in a machine."

Dirigibles have had a bit of a bad press since the Hindenburg explosion. But newer versions of the flying giants are safer and sleeker. Still, even the old ones can fascinate: I heartily recommend Douglas Botting's book, Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel, for a very readable history of airships and their fate.

Luckily, others continue to dream Dr. Eckener's dream, and they're smarter than Balloon Boy's parents. For example, the Zeppelin NT (New Technology) launched in 2001. As BusinessWeek's Adam Aston noted in 2007, "The appeal of zeppelins is enduring, and difficult to describe. Is it their slow moving grace, like whales in the sky? The retro-hip 1930s futurama look and feel of the modern, when modern really meant something?" Maybe all of those reasons. After all, wanting to see dirigibles floating through the sky ferrying people and freight doesn't mean one doesn't want to see airplanes and trains. But it would be nice to reclaim a graceful -- and cool -- technology that was unfairly discarded when speed and power became the main criteria for transportation.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Told You So: A Whole Buncha Planets Found

I love it when reality proves to be in agreement with my assumptions.

The European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile announced the discovery of 32 new planets outside of the solar system. The exciting part of it is that they provide evidence of many more planets of smaller size than much of what has been discovered previously.

Notes BBC News:

The discovery is exciting because it suggests that low-mass planets could be numerous in our galaxy. "From [our] results, we know now that at least 40% of solar-type stars have low-mass planets. This is really important because it means that low-mass planets are everywhere, basically," explained Stephane Udry from Geneva University, Switzerland. "What's very interesting is that models are predicting them, and we are finding them; and furthermore the models are predicting even more lower-mass planets like the Earth."
More info from ESO, or watch ESO's "video press release" below:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Samir Husni Interviews Bob Guccione Jr. -- Why Magazines Are Great, How They Can Be Done Well

Samir Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine," posted a very interesting article on his blog, an interview with serial magazine entrepreneur Bob Guccione Jr. It's well worth reading.

Somewhere in my stacks of magazines I've collected over the years, I have the inaugural issue of Spin magazine from the mid-1980s (not the issue pictured here). Spin was a magazine that really had a large impact on the music and magazine industries. But that wasn't the last we heard of Guccione. He also founded Gear magazine and, for a while, was involved with the science magazine Discover. (I had heard rumors a few years ago that he wanted to revive his father's legendary science/science-fiction/futurist magazine Omni, publishing it as a quarterly and bringing his father on board as consultant or in some such role. I haven't found anything more on that, so my assumption is that it is a dead project, at least for now. But as longtime readers of this blog know, I like revivals of dead SF/science/futurist magazines.)

Guccione is a true magazine person, which is clear from Husni's interview. But I'm even more impressed because he seems to think along the same lines I do when it comes to what's hurting many magazines today and how quality, in-depth material is what will keep the survivors alive or birth new ones.

My father, it was his mission in life to create Penthouse Magazine and it was his mission to adhere to principles and freedom of speech, which he manifested far more in attacking the Nixon administration and going after Jimmy Carter, Reagan, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA, much more so than breaking any nudity barrier. That was a pretty simple barrier to break. It was broken, end of game, move on. For years he did fantastic investigative reporting, which is really why he had so many enemies. Those enemies chose to chase him and [Playboy founder Hugh] Hefner on the obscenity issue, but what they were really trying to do was silence the voice that was irritating to them. To take this a little further, how much money is spent on investigative journalism? People think, what the hell, why spend it? They think readers want sex, gossip, cooking, and tips to flatten their stomachs. That’s when publishing is sort of descended into this blandness of just being ink and paper. The thing that was never boring was that it told you stories you didn’t know. It surprised you. I’m sorry, I love food magazines, but I want to startle. A recipe for risotto isn’t going to surprise anybody, yet an article exposing what this or that administration is doing to deprive us of our rights and our lifestyles, that’s something that’s worth reading.

Check out the entire interview. It's worth your time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

McClatchy Newspapers Reports INCREASED Profit

McClatchy Companies, the third largest newspaper publisher in the country, reports its net revenue increased in the third quarter, compared to the third quarter of 2008. Net revenue was $23.6 million, compared to $4.2 million for the same quarter of 2008.

Gary Pruitt, McClatchy's chairman and CEO, says "The advertising declines we've experienced show some signs of slowing, but the ad environment remains weak overall. As a result, we expect print advertising revenues to continue to decline in the fourth quarter. So far in October, we're seeing advertising revenue trends similar to the third quarter."

That's hardly the time-to-kill-the-papers news we've come to expect from the media industry. It's good news, in fact.

Voting for Give me Shelter on Rachael Ray's Mutt Madness

Rachael Ray's Mutt Madness is a voting bracket that results in worthy animal care organizations being given thousands of dollars. There are many worthy groups there, but please vote for San Francisco's own Give Me Shelter. Vote every week! (Note: You have to vote for all of the brackets before it will allow you to submit your vote.)

The Art of the Licensed Movie Magazine (as told by David McDonnell)

Editor David McDonnell's blog over at has an interesting story about the company's involvement (and mostly non-involvement) with publishing a licensed magazine for the Indiana Jones films and TV series. It's a tale of something that didn't come to be, but for people interested in the publishing business -- as I am -- or just movie-lovers who are interested in knowing how their favorite merchandise comes to appear in the store for them to purchase, it's a great article.

It also reminds me of my one and only visit to the Starlog offices, back in 1999. I was getting a tour of the offices from one of the mag's founders, and we got an earful from top editors and publishers about the politics of publishing a licensed magazine for one of the biggest blockbusters of that year. (I'll leave out that film company's name to avoid stepping on any toes; besides, that was a year of many blockbusters, so good luck guessing.) Starlog Group had tried to get rights to a licensed magazine for the film, but the price was so steep that it'd be nearly impossible to recoup the cost, much less make a profit. Another publisher did snap up the rights, but it paid so much that Starlog Group was slapping its forehead in dismay (if a company had a slappable forehead -- but you know what I mean) over what the other publisher would have to do to make it work.

Licensed magazines can be a money machine, if they're well-chosen. I also suspect they're a little bit like broadcasting the Olympics is for network TV. The winning network usually pays a ton for the rights and, or so I read once, doesn't recoup enough of its investment in advertising; instead, it gets a long-term payback by being able to promote its own shows throughout the two-week run of Olympics coverage, and that provides a boost to ratings (and thus broad-based advertising revenue) in future weeks and months. Similarly, movie magazines allow the publisher to devote a page or two to advertising its other titles and products. Take away the licensing biz from a publisher, and you take away more than one benefit it was receiving.

McDonnell explains how Starlog Group President/Publisher Norman Jacobs structured his licensing deals (again, a nice tidbit for magazine geeks like me to know; probably overkill for you). At one time (I believe in the 1980s), Starlog Group was the number-one publisher of licensed magazines. Over the years, the company did everything from Star Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyager) to Baywatch to Terminator 2 to The Untouchables and on and on and on, until that business dried up for them a decade or so ago. I would have loved to see what they could have and would have done with a magazine on the new Battlestar Galactica, but now I'm just compounding geekness upon geekness.

These days, the licensed movie magazine section of your local friendly Borders has been totally colonized by Britain's Titan Magazines, which did in fact publish a Galactica magazine, and still produces them for CSI: Miami, Torchwood, Star Wars, and others. I wonder what their licensing deal is like.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caijing, Chinese Anti-Corruption Magazine, in Turmoil

Despite the Chinese government's attempts to retain and even increase its control over the dissemination of news and information, there is at least one magazine that apparently speaks out, having built its reputation by publishing reports on corruption.

A leading financial publication, Caijing has somehow managed to survive for years, despite official preference for sweeping corruption under the rug. But now, Financial Times reports (linked article requires subscription) that much of the staff has walked out and the magazine's future is in doubt.

Forbes asks whether the turmoil at Caijing is from government pressure, internal feuding, or the longtime editor's wish to start a new publication. Might even be a combination of those choices, Forbes notes.

We'll have to wait and see. An independent and crusading journalism voice in China is rare and should be supported. Until we learn what's going on, check out the English-language edition of Caijing's web site.

Los Angeles Times Does Something Right

The LA Times has returned control of its magazine to the editorial department, ending a ridiculous 16-month experiment of having its business side put out the magazine.

Never should have gone the other way. Now, one hopes, the magazine will return to doing more timely, newsy articles and less culture/fashion/celebrity fluff.

Bloomberg Buys BusinessWeek; no "scorched earth" policy planned

As expected, Bloomberg is the successful bidder for troubled business magazine BusinessWeek. It's probably a good fit; at least it wasn't bought by someone who doesn't know business, doesn't know publishing, and thinks all news can be tweeted.

BusinessWeek quotes Bloomberg LP President Daniel L. Doctoroff: “We couldn’t be more excited…We are not buying BusinessWeek to gut it. We are buying it to build it.” The same article says there are likly to be some staff cuts, "but reports of a planned scorched earth campaign are overblown, say sources."

Terms weren't disclosed by the parties, but it was surely higher than the $1-plus-debt talked about when BW was first put up for sale. But Barron's cites $2 million to $5 million figures, plus of course a ton of debt.

The New York Times reports that the magazine will be renamed Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Best of all, Rupert didn't get it!

Hugh Hefner -- Marge Simpson Cover Gets Most Media Attention "in Memory"

The hullabaloo over cartoon character Marge Simpson's upcoming Playboy magazine cover and pictorial inside has not abated. Pretty much every media outlet is reporting it, which makes it a very smart publicity move (and hey, that's what covers are supposed to do: Drive publicity and buyer curiosity). It even supported two top-ten "trending topics" on Twitter one day.

Now Playboy founder and editor Hugh Hefner has acknowledged via Twitter that the move has generated tremendous publicity.

Hefner (Twitter name: hughhefner) tweets: "Marge Simpson's cover & pictorial are generating more media attention than any celebrity in memory." Still, not all of that info has been correct; he adds in a later tweet: "The Marge Simpson pictorial in the November issue is 5 page not 3, as reported elsewhere, including a gatefold & data sheet." What? No Homer Party Jokes? Alas ...

Cover Art: Ewan McGregor on Fantastic Man

I'm not generally a fan of some of the new magazines that look like they were designed by design-school seniors (i.e., ignoring what the industry has learned well over the past century or two), but this cover of Fantastic Man caught my eye. Its simplicity works well.

Rex Hammock on Why Magazines As a Format Are Going to Remain

Rex Hammock has a great blog post about how every magazine will die (well, just as every person will die, someday), but the magazine format is not dead. In fact, the audience for magazines has grown in recent years, not shrunk.

I particularly liked this part:

The mass-media magazine business model is what is broken, not the magazine format. For instance, magazine readership is up over the past eight years— which I think is pretty good for a dead medium. And technology has radically changed magazines over the past 20 years: it has enabled my company to compete on a level field with any magazine publisher in American in terms of design and production tools, access to collaborative tools and a myriad of other mundane things. And, as I pointed out the other days, technology is changing the economics of the production and distribution of magazines.

Not too unlike my own comments on the matter (here and here and here even here). Give us a quality magazine and we'll pay for it. And we do.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Helen Thomas: President Obama "Lacks courage to do the right thing"

Phil Bronstein (left) interviews veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas at The Commonwealth Club. (Photo by John Zipperer.)

Tough talk to presidents: Veteran journalist Helen Thomas drew gasps from the Commonwealth Club audience this afternoon when she said President Barack Obama "lacks courage to do the right thing." She added that "he needs to be bolder and stick to his guns, especially on health care."

Thomas was in conversation with Phil Bronstein, himself a legendary Bay Area journalist and currently editor-at-large of the San Francisco Chronicle. They discussed many presidents, including Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Her comments above about the current president shouldn't be read too negatively; she was basically calling for him to develop a backbone and stop trying to be bipartisan in a hyper-partisan political environment.

Thomas has been freed somewhat to be more overtly partisan in her own writings since she became a columnist and not just a straight news reporter. She said people have always known she was liberal, but now she can put it in print.

Nonetheless, she had kind words for one Republican president: Gerald Ford. Calling him "a wonderful man" who helped restore the dignity of the presidency, she refused to name other presidents whom she would hold in similar respect.

You can see more in the video below. (My apologies for the low quality of the video; I was at the back of the room and was doing this on the fly. Still, it captures her spirit and her words.)

Chicago Cubs Are Bankrupt, but Will Still Be Sold for $845 Million

The Chicago Cubs filed for bankruptcy protection today as part of parent Tribune Company's efforts to sell the popular-but-bad team. (I make no effort to be non-partisan on this blog or this topic; I'm a White Sox fan -- as is our president, so it's only patriotic to be a Sox fan.)

The Cubs aren't likely really bankrupt, at least not in the usual sense. (CNBC reported just a few weeks ago that the Cubs remain a money machine. See video below.) It was a necessary part of the sale deal, because likely new owners -- the Ricketts family -- won't be liable to Tribune creditors as Tribune continues working through its own real bankruptcy. (Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008.)

I always found it amusing that the White Sox could be winning their division or be in second place almost every year, and they'd often be playing to crowds (what's in a word?) of 6,000 or 12,000. Meanwhile, the Cubbies would be lounging at the bottom of their National League division and they'd be playing to sold-out crowds of drunk Northwestern frat boys and drunk Loop businessmen (former Northwestern frat boys, natch) entertaining clients. Cubs fans love Wrigley Field and the Cubs. White Sox fans love baseball. There's a difference.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Monet, Monet: Looking for Minnows

Proof that I was once a child. This photo (from either the early 1970s or the early 1300's) shows me (far right) with my brother and sister. A calm, ralaxing scene. I think we were also bored out of our minds.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Deja Vu: Penton to Examine Its "Capital Structure"

Folio: is reporting that Penton Media is "reevaluating its capital structure." The company notified its staff that it was bringing in an outside firm to help it do the reevaluation.

Says Folio:

Wasserstein & Co. acquired the company in 2006 for $194.2 million, plus assumption and payment of debt, putting the total value of the deal at $530 million. One media M&A observer contacted by FOLIO: estimated that Penton’s debt today could be "close to $1 billion."
One billion dollars? Yikes. How will they ever dig out of that?

It all sounds familiar to me. I worked at Penton's Internet World magazine from early 2000 to mid-2003, when the print magazine was closed; I continued on as a freelance editor of a semi-monthly e-newsletter until I decided I needed an honest job and left. But for the last year or two of my time at Penton, there were constant stories about restructuring debt, bringing in new investment partners, rumors of sales, threats of being delisted from the stock exchange, etc. It was demoralizing then, and it did eventually lead to the company's sale (as noted in the quote above). But before that, there was a steady, quarter-by-quarter drain of talent as layoffs were needed every three months to appease the angry Wall Street gods. There was a lot of talent at that company, and it hurt to have it drained away.

One billion dollars? Well, I can't imagine it'll be any prettier this time. But good luck, Pentonites.

Marge Simpson Beats Levi Johnson to the Press, Gets Playboy November Cover

Playboy has released images of the cover of its November issue, which is a split-run with two different covers. The one that's getting all of the attention, though, is the one featuring cartoon character Marge Simpson.

Reminds me of when I was an editor in New York at Internet World magazine at the beginning of this decade. Dilbert creator Scott Adams visited the offices (during the course of a media tour for some internet project with which he was involved), chatted with some of the staff, and signed our signature wall -- and he included a small drawing on the wall of one of his characters. There was some talk after that meeting of hiring him to draw a Dilbert cover for Internet World. The price wasn't too high, but the idea foundered for one of two reasons (I don't remember which): Either he wasn't interested in any of the story ideas forwarded his way, or he was too busy.

I would have liked to see the Dilbert cover come to be, but it didn't. So I can figure the Playboy editors are deservedly happy with their coup. Congrats to them. An issue that features a Tracy Morgan interview, Farrah Fawcett tribute, and a Stephen King story doesn't need Marge to help sell it, but I bet this will boost newsstand sales.

Best of all, they beat Levi Johnson and his Playgirl photoshoot to market.

Obama's Nobel Surprise; Next Year, Bill Clinton

Didn't see this coming:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Updates: Playboy CEO Threatens Seppuku; plus SF SPCA, Conde Nast, Levi Johnson & More

  • As a follow-up to my post a couple days ago on the troubles at SF SPCA, I wanted to share this short story from CBS5 TV news in San Francisco. It's just more reporting on the mess at that organization.
  • I'm just thinking that it must not be much fun to work at Conde Nast these days. After their recent magazine closures (supposedly the last), now they're doing layoffs at one of the surviving mags.
  • Meanwhile, The New York Times provides a visual aid for people trying to comprehend what a smaller Conde Nast could possibly mean in this crazy, upside-down world, *sob sob sob*
  • A while ago I reported the most important news in the history of the world, or at least in the annals of the Sarah Palin saga: The father of her grandchild is going to pose for Playgirl (presumably the web site, since it stopped publishing a print Playgirl magazine a year or so ago). He's apparently been working out, and his lawyer says that the photo shoot is a foregone conclusion.
  • Playboy CEO Scott Flanders, who's apparently been doing the rounds of the business press, is quoted by Reuters as saying, "Over my dead body will we quit producing the magazine in print." Though threatening to commit seppuku helps address fears (which we can now largely begin to ignore) that the magazine would be deep-sixed, it doesn't tell us more about a report in the Chicago Tribune that the publication could be radically down-sized.
  • I hadn't intended sex to be a common theme of much of this list of updates, but it's turning out that way. Anyway, the Los Angeles Times reports that Hugh Hefner does write down his own tweets for Twitter -- but he doesn't tweet 'em himself; one of his girlfriends actually retypes them so they can be read by his more than 100,000 followers on Twitter. That's kind of like someone who recently called us to let us know they had just sent us an e-mail. But hey, at least he writes his own tweets.
  • What the heck: Finally, because so many people seem to be getting caught with their pants down in prostitution and womanizing news, I figured I'd share this story from Times of India about a Tamil journalist arrested in a prostitution sting. Or wait, how about this minister in Nicolas Sarkozy's government who wrote in a book about his past experiences picking up young (just how young seems to be under dispute) male prostitutes in Thailand -- oh, and the minister just happened to be a vocal supporter of Roman Polanski. It starts to make David Letterman seem downright grandfatherly. Keep your pants on, folks.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More on the Playboy "Strategic Repositioning" News: More Clubs

Chicago Tribune has an interview that fleshes out the earlier Folio: article in which new Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders said there'd be a strategic repositioning of the company, though print'd stay around.

The Trib article tells us where a big focus of the company will be going forward: Clubs. The one Playboy Club in existence, in Las Vegas, is apparently doing well, even in the recession.

Back in its heyday, Playboy had dozens of clubs, including huge (and musta-been expensive) resorts in New Jersey and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Years after Christie Hefner shut them down, she was asked about that, and she noted that Playboy had a good run with clubs; it's hard to make clubs (restaurants and entertainment venues) work for long, and Playboy had more than two decades of success before the market changed. (In particular, the idea of "key clubs" went out of fashion, though the company was also hurt by losing its lucrative casino gaming licenses.)

So this strategic repositioning is probably a smart move, re-adopting something that worked in its past, and it could be successful if the company properly updates the concept to the modern day. It seems to have been a big success at the Palms in Las Vegas, and there are plenty of other destination cities around the world where a Playboy Club could do quite well.

As for the flagship magazine, though Flanders seemed clear in the Folio: interview that the mag was here to stay, the Trib article puts up some parameters: "Playboy has no plans to shut the magazine, but has hinted at drastic cuts in frequency, circulation and pages. Playboy TV has room to grow, Flanders said, and the company's subscription Web sites have held their own against piracy and competition from free sites."

Of course, just like in the 1960s, '70s and early '80s, a successful destination entertainment business can help fuel the print side. There can be positive feedback in both directions. So, a rising tide here could life the print boat. Hopefully.

Robert Mueller: Cyber-Security Big Concern; Wife Doesn't Let Him Use Online Banking

The beautiful five-year-old FBI German shepherd (above) who greeted attendees of FBI Director Robert Mueller's speech today at The Commonwealth Club (below). Photos by John Zipperer.

It's not every day that attendees at San Francisco's famed Commonwealth Club are greeted at the door by a large German shepherd, but it's not surprising when those attendees were showing up to hear the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, talk about cyber security. (Well, except for the folks who showed up for the German foreign-language discussion group; they were a bit more surprised.)

Mueller started his talk by noting that he had been the victim of an online phishing scam; he had received an e-mail that looked like it came from his bank and was asking to confirm his account information. Faster than you can yell at the heroine in a horror movie "Don't go into the woods!", our nation's top crime fighter fell for the scam and compromised his security. He said he told his wife (who was also present at his speech) that he considered the experience to be a "teaching moment," but she told him she didn't need the teaching moment -- and he was banned from using online banking.

He later noted, "I do not have a Facebook page." But Mueller's personal aptitude on the internet wasn't the issue. He came to talk about all that the FBI is doing to combat cyber crime. That includes working with police departments around the world -- even "embedding" FBI agents in some Eastern European countries' police forces to help them fight cyber crime.

During the question-and-answer session, Mueller was asked whether the FBI has any hackers working for it, using their skills to help fight other hackers. Mueller said the bureau did not employ any hackers, and after illegal hackers are caught and serve time in jail, they should not look forward to good jobs using their skills.

His comments reminded me of the response I received to a similar question when I interviewed security guru Peter Tippett in the June 1, 2001, issue of Internet World magazine. (Alas, IW's archives are no longer available online; I still have the interview, however, and will try to post it to my main web site soon.) I asked Tippett, who had done considerable amounts of consulting work with various government agencies as well as private firms, if he'd ever consider hiring hackers to help him in his efforts, and he flat-out said no. He said that such people believe all information should be free -- including your credit card information and other private information -- and he doesn't want such people working for him.

Of course, the assumption behind the question is often that illegal hackers have some important talents that are not possessed by people in the online security and law enforcement fields. That's simply not true, but people often ask the question in ignorance, which is fueled by high-profile cases of online criminality, while they know little about the countless cyber crimes that are thwarted every single day.

The Beginning of the End of Berlusconi? Immunity Rejected by Italy Court

For those of you following European politics, this is huge news. (One should always keep in mind the multi-page special section The Economist ran years ago laying out very effectively --  devastatingly, in my view -- the reasons Silvio Berlusconi shouldn't be Italian prime minister.) Now that Italy's high court has ruled that the sweetheart legislation giving Berlusconi immunity isn't legal, is it time to write his political epitaph (yet again)?

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's top court ruled on Wednesday that a law granting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution violates the constitution, in a verdict that will reopen trials against him and may undermine his government.

Yet Another Ring Around Saturn Discovered -- Who Knew?

An artist's vision of the newly discovered ring around Saturn -- the planet's largest ring. The artist's conception simulates an infrared view of the giant ring. Saturn appears as just a small dot from outside the band of ice and dust. The inset shows enlarged image of Saturn, as seen by the W.M. Keck Observatory at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in infrared light. The ring, stars and wispy clouds are an artist's representation. (Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Keck )

NASA discovered another humongous ring around the planet Saturn, this one so large it'd take 1 billion earths to fill it, notes USA Today's article on the subject.

Discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the humongo ring is so diffuse, it doesn't reflect much light and was only noticed by an infrared scan. According to NASA's announcement,

The discovery may help solve an age-old riddle of one of Saturn's moons. Iapetus has a strange appearance -- one side is bright and the other is really dark, in a pattern that resembles the yin-yang symbol. The astronomer Giovanni Cassini first spotted the moon in 1671, and years later figured out it has a dark side, now named Cassini Regio in his honor. A stunning picture of Iapetus taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft is online at .

Saturn's newest addition could explain how Cassini Regio came to be. The ring is circling in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's moons are all going the opposite way. According to the scientists, some of the dark and dusty material from the outer ring moves inward toward Iapetus, slamming the icy moon like bugs on a windshield.

Publishing News -- Playboy to Undergo "Strategic Repositioning" but "Print Isn't Going Anywhere"

New Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders has appointed a new president for the company (Alex Vaickus) and told Folio:'s Jason Fell that the media company will undergo a "strategic repositioning" this fall.

What exactly is meant by that remains to be seen, except that Flanders explicitly said the company's flagship magazine, Playboy, will remain in print. Despite a rotten 2009 (like the rest of the magazine industry), Playboy has a future with Playboy. “I am absolutely committed 100 percent to keeping Playboy in print,” he told Fell. “The magazine is the cornerstone of what we do, it’s what the brand was built on."

The big performer in the company's stable is its international licensing activity. Maybe they should also get a casino license again -- wasn't that once one of their major sources of revenue? That'd be a pretty darn big strategic repositioning, if you ask me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

No More Models for German Fashion Magazine Brigitte

It might be a ploy to get attention to help arrest a declining readership, or it might be a surrender to the growing concerns over whether emaciated models are giving women unrealistic ideas about how thin they should be. But whatever the reason, it's still big news in the magazine industry that German women's magazine Brigitte has declared that it will no longer feature models.

According to English-language German news site The Local, "Instead, the Hamburg-based title published by Gruner+Jahr plans to choose from readers who register online and staff members based on their meaningful qualities other than their dress size."

This does not mean the magazine's going to feature the type of person sitting next to you on the subway. I assume they'll still pick above-average-looking people, just presumably not ones who look like they've never eaten solid food.

Not sure if this'll catch on. I think the goal is worthy, but if their 700,000 circulation drops, I wonder if they'll stick with it.

What do you think?

Trouble Continues at San Francisco SPCA

The San Francisco SPCA, which has a nationwide reputation as a leader in public education about animal care and urban planning for animal control, has fallen on hard times, and it's hard not to conclude that it's the organization's own fault. They're running a big deficit and just laid off almost two-dozen people.

The group has been under intense fire for the past couple years from local animal activists (including many former volunteers at SF SPCA) over its focus on a new hospital, the closure of programs that trained hearing dogs (and then its successful attempt to wrest away a $500,000 donation to be used for the hearing dog program it doesn't seem to have any longer), trouble between SF/SPCA and local animal rescue groups, and its newfound preference for carting-in animals from other counties instead of taking animals from the city pound and finding homes for them.

Is all of that criticism taking its toll? In a new story on NBC 11 (a San Francisco Bay Area TV station), critics argue that SF SPCA wastes money, pays executives too much, and -- worst of all -- is betraying its duty to train and find homes for animals that might not be easy to adopt because they're older (and people mostly want kittens and puppies) or have small behavioral problems.

I'll admit my bias here. I briefly volunteered at SF SPCA earlier this decade, and we adopted our cat from there. Charlie (pictured, above) fell into what was known as "category 4," which would likely earn him a swift trip to the euthanasia chamber these days, according to the articles I've been reading. He can get over-stimulated when playing or when over-pet and can respond by biting or scratching. (He'd been returned to the shelter twice by previous adopters, and he bit one woman who almost adopted him.) But that's easy for us to handle, because we know how to watch for the signs and how not to overreact. When we adopted him, the SF SPCA folks took the time to make sure we knew how to deal with such a cat and that we knew what we were getting into.

We've now had him for about five years, and we've never regretted it. If the shelter hadn't seen him as an animal whose life was worth saving, and if it hadn't had the expertise on staff to help potential adopters, and if it hadn't had the patience to work with a cat who had made many fans at the shelter despite his quirks, then Charlie would have been killed before we had the chance to meet him and have him capture our hearts. That's the thing that I fear is being lost as SF SPCA keeps going in the direction in which it is going. Animals already get treated like commodities at most city pounds; either they're cute and can be adopted within a few days, or they are disposed of.

But what I think SF SPCA means to so many people is that it taught people to look at the animal as an animal -- and to find the right home for it. You see, there's nothing wrong with Charlie as a cat. His over-stimulation (which has moderated somewhat under our care) is something that probably helped him quite a bit when he was living on the streets before SF SPCA captured him. But too many people still look at dogs and cats as if they are either toys or wannabe-humans. They're neither.

Now, this article in the Northside newspaper argues that SF SPCA only wants the cute and cuddly cats and dogs that can be moved off the shelves very quickly. There's no room for Charlie at SF SPCA any more. That's a tragedy. He's a very handsome, fun, smart, and well-adjusted cat. He wouldn't have deserved a fate of the euthanasia chamber.

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Condé Nast CEO: No More Magazine Closures

Condé Nast President and CEO Chuck Townsend informed Folio:'s Jason Fell that yesterday's closure of Gourmet, Elegant Bride, Modern Bride, and Cookie are the last Condé Nast titles to fold.

The closures, which came about in the wake of a McKinsey & Co. report commissioned by Condé Nast, were reportedly made because those four titles had less long-term growth possibilities than other titles. (Without knowing the details, I don't know if that means they could be expected to be profitable, just not as profitable as other titles in the Condé stable -- and therefore it's really just a matter of highest and best use of company capital -- or whether the magazines were so unprofitable they were never expected to contribute positively to the bottom line in a consistent manner again. But I don't have Chuck Townsend's e-mail address, and Fell doesn't go into that, so I'll have to remain in the dark.)

Fell's article does have some interesting musing about other Condé Nast titles that are perceived to be weak -- but if Townsend is to be believed, they are going to continue to be published.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Readers Go Hungry for More

Condé Nast is one of the big powerhouse magazine publishers in the world, home to GQ, Vogue, Architectural Digest, Glamour, The New Yorker, and many others. As of today, Conde Nast publishes several fewer titles, having given the axe to Cookie, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride, and -- in a move that shocked the publishing and the foodie worlds -- Gourmet magazines. The move followed a review of the company by an outside consultant firm, McKinsey.

Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet since 1999, spoke at The Commonwealth Club in Silicon Valley just last week, where she talked about some of the major trends in American cooking, such as healthier food and increased international influences.

But Reichl couldn't beat out a different trend in America, that of a precipitous drop in advertising revenue. Not all magazines are primarily supported by ads; some get more of their revenue from newsstand and subscription revenue. But advertising remains the lifeblood of most of the big glossies, and that's Condé Nast's field of play. It publishes magazines filled with high-priced ads from luxury goods and services companies around the world. And until recently, Condé Nast was famous (or infamous among its peers) for never deigning to discount ad space; if you wanted to advertise in its magazines, you paid full price. In return, the magazines were known for their high quality photography, printing, journalism -- and perks, such as limousines for editors. (If you have seen The September Issue, the great new documentary about Vogue Editor Anna Wintour and her top staff, you get the idea.)

The sense I get from looking at the past couple issues of big national glosses (not counting the giant September back-breakers in the fashion niche) is that advertising pages have begun to rebound from their lows of late spring and summer, but it will be some time before publishers are back in the black.

As for Ms. Reichl's future, it's not yet known, though it's still possible her fans will find her within the surviving Gourmet family. According to Advertising Age:

Conde Nast didn't have an answer Monday for the number of jobs that would be lost as a result of the moves, but the titles' mastheads suggest massive cuts are likely. Gourmet alone lists some 100 staffers, although the company will presumably keep some to help run Gourmet's books, TV and recipes activities, which will continue. It wasn't immediately clear whether Ms. Reichl or VP-publisher Nancy Berger Cardone will stay in some capacity or leave the company. Cookie's masthead numbers closer to 75.

K-20: The Man with Twenty Faces film review

Sometimes I don't know what to expect from a movie before I see it. I go knowing that I'll see something different -- not just the latest Jennifer Aniston comedy or generic Hollywood actioner -- but I don't know much about a film's story or background. I just go hoping it'll prove to be a good experience.

I went to see K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces (aka K-20: The Legend of the Mask) at least as much because I wanted to see a different type of movie as because I wanted to experience a new theater. Viz Cinema is located in San Francisco's Japantown. (If you're at all familiar with the famed anime/manga producer/distributor Viz Media, then you know Viz Cinema's parentage.) I had not been aware that this new theater had opened until I stumbled across it in the online movie listings.

I'm glad I went to test out the new theater with this movie. Other than being a bit too air conditioned (and that's saying something; I'm from Wisconsin and I miss my snow), the underground theater is clean and comfortable, with plenty of good seats and fine presentation of the film.

And the film itself? K-20 is not going to win any awards on the originality of its storyline -- in that category, it's fairly conventional. But the style and design and frankly the gusto with which it tells its story carries you through those moments where you'd lose all interest in a connect-the-dots-type Hollywood product. The moment the film stated, with an aerial shot of a fictional Japanese capital city in 1949 -- complete with a police airship dispatching small airplanes to monitor the city -- I knew I'd like this film. I never wavered in that.

The story is set in a timeline in which World War II never happened, so the old ruling classes continue to rule Japan. (Early on, we're shown a headline declaring that the war was avoided by a peace treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom; we'll not squabble here about the fact that Japan had been at war -- and quite viciously so -- in China for about a decade before the U.S. and UK got their fingers burned in the conflict. But whatever.) In this milieu, a masked thief named K-20 has become notorious for stealing valuable objects from the rich. When an innocent circus performer, Heikichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro), is framed for the crimes, he must clear his name and find the real culprit.

Hunting down the thief is a dashing baron and his teenage junior detective assistant. The baron also happens to be engaged to a duchess who's not sure she wants the pampered life of an aristocrat. Heikichi Endo is helped by a local band of small-time thieves to train as a master thief himself, the better to catch K-20 and clear his name.

Most of the above is no good for getting across to you the joy of watching this film. Because it's often in the stunned expressions of the other characters to an unexpected exclamation from the duchess, or a sudden twist in the arsenal of the story tellers (the junior detectives caught me off-guard -- and I was even more pleased that they didn't over-use the device), that you realize you're watching a film that was made to be enjoyed, not just consumed.

If you're like me, you'll probably guess K-20's real identity very early on. But again, that doesn't take away the enjoyment or the suspense. Will Heikichi Endo be able to clear his name? Just what is the duchess up to? What's going to happen to all those orphaned kids? It's worth the ride to find out.

One casting note: Heikichi Endo actor Takeshi Kaneshiro starred in the 2002 Japanese science fiction film Returner. Another film worth checking out.