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The bad news is in at Conde Nast. After a summer review by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., the publisher announced today that it will be shuttering four publications. Food magazine Gourmet, parenting mag Cookie, and bridal titles Modern Bride and Elegant Bride will cease to exist after this month.

In connection, about 180 employees will be laid off. Condé Nast CEO Chuck Townsend said that they were shuttered for the simple reason that the titles were losing money. Cookie is the last of Conde Nast's new publications to get the ax, while Gourmet and the bridal mags competed with other Conde titles that were bringing in more revenue. But both the bridal magazines and Gourmet were slow to move online, and are being subsumed by more digitally adept publications.

Is more streamlining to come — both online and offline?

Townsend told The Wall Street Journal that the closures came down to earnings:

"We've been working with those titles in addition to others titles to maximize their financial health in this economy. And unfortunately, these titles just fall below the line. We can't sustain them."

But he insinuated to The New York Times that these will be the last publications to be shuttered:

“We will not be in that position after today — we won’t have businesses that don’t make a contribution.”

And yet, the problems of the four magazines closed today are not quarantined to them but endemic to the entire company.

Three of Condé Nast's most profitable magazines, Vogue, Glamour and Vanity Fair, fell nearly 18% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the same period a year earlier. Gourmet's ad pages have fallen 43% in the third quarter of 2009, but ad pages at Vanity Fair are down 35% and at W's are down 45% in the same period.

For once, Conde's online brands seem to have played a major role in the executive decision making at the print titles.

Cookie is the last of Conde's newer magazines to get the ax (Domino and Portfolio were earlier shuttered) and Townsend explained that they just ran out of runway on its launch. But in the bridal section, Brides magazine was helped by its relation to Brides.com. The magazine will pick up where Modern Bride and Elegant Bride left off, increasing its frequency to 12 times a year. And Brides.com will receive more investment to compete with popular site TheKnot.com.

Gourmet magazine was helmed by prestige editor Ruth Reichl, but the title was losing ground to Bon Appetit in terms of circulation and ad pages. Gourmet saw its ad pages decline 42% in the first quarter of this year, compared with 26% at Bon Appetit.  Bon Appetit is also more active online.

But even in that space, there is more overlap for Conde. Epicurious.com is Conde's most active online food property. And while Bon Appetit has made excellent inroads online, there are even more ways the sites could be simplified and made more efficient.

Conde is not open to thoughts like that though. I've written about Conde's reluctance to streamline online here and here.  

With McKinsey encouraging 20-25% cuts across the board at Conde, more bad news is coming, and especially in the overcrowded field of fashion (Conde Nast owns W, Vogue, Glamour, and Allure to name a few), it will be awhile before ad losses will be stemmed.

But Conde Nast is not one to talk about such things, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens. Back in February, Townsend was insisting that both of Conde's food publications were going strong:

"Gourmet and B. A. are two completely different magazines, both in their editorial point of view and in their audiences...Both are circulation powerhouses, and I'm perfectly content with both properties as businesses."

Meghan Keane

Published 5 October, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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