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.

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