Swing and George Avoid the (Bad) News of their Audits; Is The New Yorker in Bed with Triumph of Love?

Vanity publishing update: John F. Kennedy’s George and David Lauren’s Swing both are on the far side of two years old, and they still don’t have their audits. But-by law-they do have to file year-end documentation with the United States Postal Service, and curious observers can glean some interesting factoids about how both magazines are doing (badly, really badly) on the circulation front.

Last year, George’ s overall circulation for the issue closest to the filing date (September) was 440,359. This year, the number was lower, down almost 10,000 readers to 430,800. And this is from a magazine that in its media kit promises advertisers it will deliver between 450,000 to 500,000 copies by this month.

The story on the newsstand is even bleaker. The percentage of copies a magazine sells on the newsstand is an excellent indicator of its vitality. According to tabulations made by magazine-circulation guru Dan Capell, newsstand sales (or “sell-through,” in magazine parlance) account for 48.3 percent of overall circulation for the nation’s top 100 magazines. The industry average was in the low 40′s, he added. George last year had a remarkable 56 percent sell-through over the course of the previous year. But October 1996 to September 1997 is a very different story. George sold an average of 118,333 copies, for a sell-through of 29 percent. By comparison, Vanity Fair , which George considers a competitor, had a sell-through of 51 percent.

Swing ‘s newsstand numbers are even worse. Just 9,040 copies of Mr. Lauren’s magazine for twentysomethings were sold on the newsstand for each issue between November 1996 and October 1997, out of a total circulation of 87,720. The sell-through number is a minuscule 9.3 percent. The numbers from October, the most recent issue tabulated, are not much better. The total comes in at 14.9 percent. But advertisers still are paying for the privilege of appearing in Ralph Lauren’s son’s magazine. The current December-January issue, a third-anniversary special, carries the most ad pages in its history.

On the night of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, CBS News became the poster child for laggard news divisions everywhere, stumbling for hours before finally breaking into pro wrestling with a feed from Britain’s Sky TV. Now it seems CBS will interrupt regularly scheduled programming for almost anything resembling big news.

During the week of Nov. 17, CBS News interrupted Americans’ favorite soap operas four times for breaking news on that life-altering story about the birth of the McCaughey septuplets in Iowa. On Nov. 19, CBS breathtakingly announced that the kids-all seven of them-were about to be born, and then came back to say that, yes, indeed they had been born and were supposedly doing fine. Two days later, CBS News again broke in twice, including coverage of the parents’ news conference. CBS competitors didn’t seem as jazzed by the news. Both NBC and ABC interrupted their daytime programming just twice, and ABC didn’t even cover the news conference.

In the aftermath of the Diana debacle and the apology from CBS News president Andrew Heyward for the “serious cracks” in the operation, television news observers expected changes. Mr. Heyward did demote vice president Lane Vernados, and he issued a bunch of edicts ordering up a “bulletin center” staffed around the clock by a producer and technician, ensuring that at least one correspondent was on duty. He also gave more news executives the green light to break into programming with the latest news updates. But the suits at CBS may want to give their trigger fingers a rest before they really upset Young and the Restless fans.

If both Marv Albert and Mike Tyson can make news for their biting prowess during the same year, why can’t there be two renditions of the 1997 Dubious Achievements awards?

The team responsible for Esquire ‘s yearly spoof of the foolish and the inane lost its leader, deputy editor David Hirshey, when editor in chief David Granger cleaned house on his first day in office in June.

But TV Guide editor in chief Steven Reddicliffe hired Mr. Hirshey and his crew to do the same thing with a new name and a slightly different twist.

The TV Guide version, called “The Year in Jeers 1997: We Bite Back!” will be on newsstands on Dec. 8. Mimicking the Esquire method of straight news items topped by a snarky headline, “The Year in Jeers” has slightly more of a TV and pop-culture bent. “Few of TV Guide ‘s readers would welcome a seating chart at Balthazar,” said Mr. Hirshey.

But Mr. Hirshey rounded up his usual collection of punsters-the pseudonymous Stanley Bing, Newsweek ‘s Jerry Adler and Mediaweek ‘s Lewis Grossberger-and delivered the same mixture of well-turned quips and groan-inducing jokes. To wit: A whole section on “People … Who Eat People,” including “tasty tidbits from the world of human sushi.” And then’s there’s the obligatory O.J. Simpson joke. A news item quoted Mr. Simpson saying it was much easier now to get dates. “I guess it’s sort of the bad-boy thing.” The TV Guide kicker: “So that’s why they call him a lady killer.”

Of course, playing to TV Guide ‘s 13 million-plus paying readers, compared to Esquire ‘s 650,000, forced the group to cut down on the risqué, particularly on dick jokes. But they still managed to push the envelope. “If we do our job well, we’ll knock a few of their readers off their Barcaloungers,” said Mr. Hirshey. Mr. Reddicliffe played hall monitor. “It was like the Dick Van Dyke Show ,” said Mr. Reddicliffe, keeping the TV motif alive. “I would like to think I was Buddy. I’m sure in some cases they thought I was Mel Cooley.”

Meanwhile, Esquire ‘s Dubious awards will be out later this month. David Eggers, formerly of the satirical magazine Might , is playing a major role in trying to refresh the formula.

Hachette Filipacchi Magazines is mighty proud of the fact that the company is wasting at least $5 million over the next five years leasing a blocklong billboard along Broadway to promote its stable of magazines. But how the company decided which 11 magazines to promote first has stirred up a mini-controversy in the 29-title empire, overseen by chief executive David Pecker.

Magazines like George, Elle and Car and Driver made the cut and have nearly 25-foot-high covers looming over a Starbucks and other stores between 51st and 52nd streets. But at least two of Hachette’s mainstream consumer magazines are conspicuously absent, even though the circulation of Metropolitan Home (616,799) and Family Life (452,353) are both bigger than Elle Decor (443,809) American Photo (258,185) and George (which promises advertisers 400,000 but still hasn’t released audited circulation numbers). According to sources at Hachette, editors at the snubbed titles feel slighted by their exclusion, and editorial director Jean-Louis Ginibre is annoyed he was not informed about the billboard plans.

Hachette editors contacted by Off the Record attempted to be diplomatic about not making the first cut of the 205-by-25-foot billboard. “I certainly wish we were there, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Donna Warner, editor in chief of Metropolitan Home . A Hachette spokesman said that the two forgotten magazines will be rotated onto the billboard in the coming months.

Mr. Pecker was nonplussed about the complaints, and even joked about it. “Since I came up with the idea and the money is not coming out of the magazines’ pockets, I have the right to say, ‘I did the deals, I have the right to decide what goes up,’” he said.

When a magazine’s theater critic bestows a rave on a Broadway production, the play’s producers rush to slap those comments on their ads, often misquoting them in the process. Rarely, however, does a magazine step in and do the marketing (and misquoting) work itself, as The New Yorker has for the people behind Triumph of Love . That help, in the form of a letter offering discount tickets just for being a subscriber to The New Yorker , has some of the magazine’s patrons upset with the marketing ploy’s crassness.

“Critics John Lahr and Nancy Franklin have been raving about a new Broadway musical comedy, Triumph of Love ,” the letter says. “John has called it ‘a smart, fresh and funny combination of high jinks and high style!’ And Nancy said: ‘This is the kind of show that makes people want to come to this city-be in the theater, go to the theater, talk about the theater!’ So here’s an offer to make it even easier to come, be, go and talk-a chance to see Triumph of Love early in the run, in the best seats, and for the best price.”

The letter is signed, coyly, “Best regards, The New Yorker .”

Magazines often rummage through their databases to dispatch similar offers, but they usually sign the publisher’s name to them and make sure their subscribers know they’re helping out an advertiser as part of a marketing deal. The New Yorker makes no such distinction.

“You’re mortgaging the brand name and credibilty of the magazine for the sake of the advertiser,” said one media executive elsewhere in S.I. Newhouse Jr.’s empire. “That should not be able to be bought. And you’re doing it in an obfuscating way without signing it from the business side. It’s not something you would let happen in the magazine’s pages, so why let it happen on letterhead?”

Ms. Franklin was not too perturbed by the mercantile use of her words but was slightly annoyed by The New Yorker ‘s dropping three of the infinitives she used in her review. “Let’s just say I’m bewitched, bothered and bewildered by their inability to quote me accurately,” she said. Ms. Franklin actually wrote: ” Triumph of Love is the kind of show that makes people want to come to this city-to be in the theater, to go to the theater, to talk about the theater.”

Mr. Lahr, who wrote a Showcase item in September, was in England and could not be reached for comment.

“If I had known about it, it would have never gone out,” said Pamela Maffei McCarthy, the magazine’s deputy editor. “It was someone’s misguided notion of synergy.”