Thursday, October 30, 2008

Conde Nast's Men's Vogue and Portfolio Slashed. Here's why.

Condé Nast has announced that it will reduce the number of issues that it publishes of two magazines, embattled business glossy Portfolio and the never-quite-got-off-the-ground Men’s Vogue, and will cut budgets across the company by 5 percent.

Let the belt-tightening begin, magazine lovers.

Portfolio will be published just 10 times a year, instead of 12, and Men’s Vogue will come out twice a year instead of 10 times, much like it did for the first two years of its publication.

While Portfolio has withstood its share of high-profile changes, Men's Vogue has flown under the radar, an oft-forgotten sibling to the fashion flagship Vogue. The New York Observer's got the dirt:

"It'll be a small, small, small version of what it is," said a 4 Times Square source. "And the small version will exist for nothing more than for Anna to save face."

Frighteningly, some of Portfolio’s online operations, including advertising sales, will be folded into those of Wired magazine, the popular tech glossy bought by Conde Nast several years ago.

I don't know much about Portfolio besides what's in the headlines. But it's my opinion that Men's Vogue never quite got off the ground for several reasons:

1) It had an imagined audience that couldn't be matched in reality (average income for MV readers was somewhere in the ballpark of $180,000 a year, way, way above that of Vanity Fair, Vogue and GQ).

2) It was somewhat irrelevant. GQ succeeds because it serves a wide audience. Men's Vogue was a niche publication that was so pricey, content-wise, that it was aspirational for its 180K/year audience. Would you spend $5 on Men's Vogue at the newsstand? Or would you bypass it for one of the other ones? And as for subscriptions: there just aren't that many young, rich people in the world. You can't have both.

3) Ad dollars never caught up. Sure, its readers had a high income, but there weren't many of them. Several of this year's issues were thin, thin, thin. We're talking New Yorker thin.

4) Staff turnover. When the staff keeps changing, the creative director leaves, the handful of actual editors (not fashion or art dept. people) keeps turning over, how do you expect to have a coherent voice? This was a new magazine. The voice wasn't quite there yet to pass on.

4) It was boring. I could tell you the editorial guide to Men's Vogue right here:

Straight-and-narrow famous male celebrity on cover (Denzel, Clooney, you know the type! No one you wouldn't bring home to Mom). A story about a new jet, yacht, or expensive status toy. A Blackbook story about something illicit in a James Bond-kinda way: gambling or espionage. A layout about ties or watches or bespoke shoes. A profile about a fashion designer or craftsman of some kind (usually in Europe, preferably Italy). A highfalutin review of a book or movie or art gallery show. A product breakdown of pricey imported aftershaves. A fawning one-page take on who showed up at last month's biggest, swankiest soirees. A preview of an up-and-coming young female actress, author or musician (any creative type will do). Main cover feature, eight pages; follow with smaller features that expand on the topics in the FOB. A major art dealer. A power broker. A brand-new car produced in a limited number. A high-class story about a low-class Western European pasttime, like rugby or hurling. A vineyard in Australia. Finish it out with a sobering story about Iraq or some other war, which no one will read, and then book-end that with a photo spread about pea coats or leather bags or some other item with cachet. Last page has an interesting snooty item for auction at Christie's or Sotheby's, then scene. Scatter some photos by Annie Liebovitz and make sure the bylines are the best of the best. Throw in a couple of ads for $30,000 watches, Ralph Lauren, Bottega Veneta and Prada and there you have it.


Sound interesting? Kinda like Details, which is pretty much like GQ, right? Exactly the problem. At first, it sounds like a packaged dream deal for ad sales, but then you realize you're basically selling the same magazine three times over. Hey, at least Men's Vogue looks like it has more personality than Details (it doesn't, really).

The three CN men's magazines do differ, of course. But when the readership wanes as well, it's hard not to consider folding one's coverage into another title.

That's what I think. Of course, I can only guess at Men's Vogue. But I know both publications had high-class, ultra-talented people working there.

I think Conde Nast is one of the finest media companies in the world. And they produce some of the smartest magazines in their class. But I also believe that opportunities and resources can be squandered.

It's kind of like the New York Yankees -- you can have the highest payroll and the most star-studded roster in baseball, but that doesn't mean you're going to make the playoffs.

(Disclaimer: I used to work, in a temporary fashion, at Men's Vogue.)

2 comments:

love and hate los angeles said...

hey hi great commentary, i was googling to buy a combo of mens vogue and portfolio and to my surprise i find your piece and blog.
So the downsizing came as a bit of a surprise to me but nothing new, old media been suffering cause of new media for last several years.
I sampled MV once the June/July 2008 issue and it wasnt all that and i dont make $180,000 a year but i am a gay male..does that qualify? lol
Anyways thanks and keep it up, love it all!

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