By Anna Merlan
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But nearly everyone else in Condé Nast management is willing--at least on background--to utter the unthinkable: The New Yorker must go biweekly.
"I think they have to, no matter what David Remnick thinks," a top Condé Nast editor told me Monday.
Behind Tina Brown's defection to the picture biz is the haze at Condé Nast management, at least where The New Yorker is concerned. Simply getting all hands on deck has proven difficult for Newhouse; when magazine overseer James Truman was asked last week to cut short his vacation in Greece to help pick a new New Yorker editor, CN grapevine holds that he responded: "Are you kidding? I've got a dinner party for 30 in two days."
As the widely cited July 20 Fortune article makes clear, The New Yorker's troubles run even deeper than that. The esteemed weekly has lost money every year since Newhouse purchased it in 1985--$175 million in all--making it "one of the greatest money pits in American magazine history," to use Fortune's punishing phrase.
Explanations of those losses, however, have been elusive. Since Brown became editor in 1992, observers have been blinded by tales of editorial profligacy, notably in David Plotz's exotic Slatefeature last year.
It's true that lavish photo shoots, personal perks, and absurdly glitzy parties haven't helped The New Yorker's bottom line. But CN insiders have long understood that The New Yorker's losses come primarily from changes on the business, not the editorial, side. Newhouse tried to apply a tested Condé Nast formula to The New Yorker: balloon the circulation and charge advertisers more.
In 1985, The New Yorker's circulation was about 450,000; today it's just over 800,000, a boost of nearly 80 per cent. And while circulation growth is usually considered to be good, it's always expensive: it means vastly increased postage costs, huge bills for paper, and expanded efforts on direct mail and fulfillment (because reader turnover also rises). Discounted subscriptions to entice new readers--below $40 a year--only made matters worse.
As these costs began to dominate the '90s, top CN managers searched for new strategies: raising the price ; deliberately lowering circulation (the pet, but rejected, tack of former New Yorker president Tom Florio); and putting the magazine out every other week.
The last tactic, CN sources say, is favored by Jonathan Newhouse--Si's cousin, and the man who Tina Brown and others have said is the company's "heir apparent." Si Newhouse, according to all CN sources, is opposed to the idea. So was Brown, at least in her later years: she felt it would hamper her commitment to topicality.
The New Yorker has, in a sense, flirted with the every-other-week schedule by publishing "special" double issues; last year, the magazine put out six. Writers grumbled about them, because stories would get rushed into--then bumped out of--"special" issues, and lose their "timely" peg. But CN eyeshade types smiled at reduced postage and paper costs.
Two industry analysts told the Voice that The New Yorker could save $7 to $10 million by going biweekly; one added, "even more if that meant a large cut in the editorial budget."
Fortnightly publications are uncommon in the U.S., but not unheard of: both Rolling Stone and National Review are published every other week. Granted, overcoming Si's supposed objections to biweekliness will be formidable. But don't take the promises that it won't happen too literally. In November 1993, I wrote: "[A] source at [The New Yorker] reports water-cooler chat to the effect that the venerable weekly has lost $25 million in the year since Brown took over." At the time, the magazine's leaders refused to comment; privately, New Yorkerofficials insisted that publisher Steve Florio was laughing at the number I was asking them to confirm.
This month's Fortune piece, however, shows The New Yorker's '92 loss at $20.8 million, and the '93 loss at $30.3 million--confirming my New Yorker source was right on the money. Condé Nast spokeswoman Andrea Kaplan told Fortune: "The company policy back then was to say, we're not losing money."
Exactly--and the company policy now is to say that The New Yorker won't go biweekly.
ClipboardThis probably doesn't indicate anything beyond the obvious fact that a lot of newspaper editorials are written by men. But on the same day (July 9) that The New York Times editorial page scolded Tina Brown for having brought "a tarty breathlessness" to The New Yorker, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, in reference to Monica Lewinsky, instructed Ken Starr to "indict the little tart and get the show on the road." . . . No one expects the New York Post and Daily News to agree on much. But last Thursday, the tabs couldn't even settle on a description of missing millionaire Irene Silverman's building. The Post said her building has six stories; the News said four. Both published photos that seemed to show five.
Research: Leila Abboud