The sale of the Walt Disney Company’s Fairchild Publications to S.I. Newhouse Jr.’s Advance Publications went through the afternoon of Aug. 24. The price? A reported $650 million.
In addition to taking on Jane and W magazines-publications that fall under Advance Publications’ Condé Nast Publications division-Mr. Newhouse is the new owner of the fashion trade publication Women’s Wear Daily . Perhaps this is the jewel in the deal. Small and focused as it is, it is still a daily newspaper, one that has employed big-time columnists from the big New York papers in the past, with a devoted readership. But how will it fit in with the other Newhouse fashion publications? While Vogue enthusiastically helps designers set trends in a happily co-dependent relationship, Women’s Wear Daily is there to chronicle the fashion industry during its ups and downs. “In this day and age when advertisers have so much control, it’s surprising to read honest reviews in WWD ,” said one member of Fairchild’s staff. “It’s a kick.”
In addition to Women’s Wear Daily , Advance has bought 11 trade publications, including Home Furnishings News and Children’s Business , not to mention a stake in a series of trade shows and conferences that were also owned by Fairchild (such as the Myrtle Beach Gift Show and the Supermarket CEO Summit). A fashion textbooks division is also included, as well as affiliated Web sites, which are presumably going in with Advance Internet’s domain, along with Condé Nast’s Web sites.
Fairchild’s nearly 800 New York employees were kept in the dark about what’s been going on since the rumors started circulating that they’d been sold in early August. There were no meetings or announcements until Aug. 23, when Women’s Wear Daily put its story to bed about their own sale. Mr. Newhouse, his brother, Advance Publications president Donald Newhouse and Donald’s son, Advance Internet president Steven Newhouse, negotiated for the Advance side.
The sale was driven by Disney’s desire to prop up its stock price-which could explain why Disney and Advance “have agreed to explore forming an Internet joint venture using the control of all appropriate Advance and Disney magazines,” according to a Disney press release. Because there’s nothing better for stock price than “Internet content.”
According to a source familiar with the situation at Disney, Condé Nast first expressed an interest in buying Fairchild in 1997. That’s when Condé Nast president Steve Florio and Disney chief executive Michael Eisner bonded, at Tina Brown’s “Next” conference at the Disney Institute.
When John Fairchild started out in his dad’s trade newspaper, he had to overturn the fashion establishment to get attention. So WWD created a bitchy tone and celebrity content that made stars out of people like Yves Saint Laurent and invented the name Jackie O. “He pissed off a lot of people,” said James Brady, the former Paris bureau chief of WWD who went on to be the paper’s publisher. “It’s important to understand where the power of WWD came from.”
Now the paper is establishment. Fairchild eminence Patrick McCarthy is pals with big designers, not to mention Vogue priestess Anna Wintour and Condé Nast prince James Truman. The blood feuds with the likes of Geoffrey Beene are over. But even if Women’s Wear Daily is not so tough as it used to be, it still provided clearsighted and thorough reports on the downfall of Barneys, for instance.
Mr. McCarthy is going to be left in place to run his profitable operation, and WWD and W will remain bound together. “Patrick McCarthy is sort of a key element in that link,” said a Condé Nast executive.
The Fairchild employees will not be moving to 4 Times Square, according to a Condé Nast source. There’s no room, especially given how closely the daily and the monthly are intertwined and need to be together. “Half the people who work on W work on WWD ,” said one Fairchild staff member.
All of the editorial staff-from Jane and W to Footwear News -sit together in one big, oatmeal-colored room on the third floor of 7 West 34th Street. There’s one bathroom and Mr. McCarthy sits out on the floor, retreating to a private office just for meetings.
“I don’t think we’re equipped to run a daily out of this building,” said one Condé Nast executive.
The 22nd floor, which is currently home to the temporary cafeteria and listed as the site of “CNP Expansion,” is going to be filled with as-yet-unnamed startup projects.
Fairchild’s Los Angeles magazine wasn’t part of the deal. “Who wants that ?” sniffed a Condé Nast executive. Since becoming part of Fairchild in 1997, Los Angeles has gone from being a city magazine losing, according to one Disney executive, between $4 million and $5 million a year, to a nonconfrontational glossy that’s close to breaking even. Disney will keep the magazine for itself-a bit of local muscle in the company’s hometown.
The future of Jane is less clear. Mr. Newhouse has tried to hire the magazine’s editor and namesake, Jane Pratt, in the past-but her magazine duplicates a lot of what’s in Mademoiselle , which hasn’t been doing so hot lately under editor Elizabeth Crow. Condé Nast insists it won’t merge the two magazines, which is believable. After all, if you think about it, practically any two Condé Nast magazines could be merged, and yet they haven’t been.
According to longtime Fairchild executives, before W ‘s launch in 1972, WWD ‘s circulation was as much as 80,000 in the 1960’s. Ladies who lunch, high society and assorted influential types read it then, when Rex Reed was writing about movies, Red Smith was writing about sports, and the magazine interviewed, for no particular reason, people like Margaret Mead. “The White House had 12 subscriptions,” said Mr. Brady.
The concept of the biweekly, newsprint W was to “take the best of WWD in that two-week period and run them in W for a more general audience,” said one Fairchild staff member from back then. Since it became a monthly magazine in 1993, the differences have become more defined, but the “Eye” column is still shared, as are fashion reviews. “Big stories that run in WWD are reworked and run in W ,” said one staff member, citing the Carolyn Bessette Kennedy story in the September W as an example.
W is smaller than Vogue in circulation. ” Vogue is in the grocery store,” sniffed one Fairchild staff worker. “It’s mass.” W is more of a picture book. Reading it is like strolling down Rodeo Drive. One editor has been known to exhort freelancers pitching stories: “There is not menopause in W ! This is not about the real world!”
Close readers of Cindy Adams’ column in the New York Post may have noticed that her kicker-“Only in New York, kids, only in New York”-now has a little “™” right next to it.
“She trademarked it,” said a Post spokesman.
Her colleagues at the paper were mystified. “We don’t even know the code for that,” said one.
With her wise-gal delivery, Ms. Adams might seem like a throwback, but she’s up to the minute when it comes to intellectual property law. She owns the copyright on her column, for one thing. And according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, through something called Cindymarc Inc., she also owns certain rights to “Gossip by Cindy Adams,” which is also the name of a drugstore perfume she launched with Coty, the mass-market fragrance giant, in 1997. She also owns that name for eyeglass frames, sunglasses, greeting cards, handbags, backpacks, gym bags, paper plates, dishes, drinking mugs, pillowcases, sheets and comforters, and board games.
We called this person and that person for comment, but nobody was talking.
Only in New York, kids, only in New York!
The “Adventure” double issue of The New Yorker strayed a bit into the tall grass of advertiser-editorial confusion. Beginning on page 35, the Goings On About Town section was interrupted by an appropriately adventuresome “gatefold” advertisement for Isuzu trucks. It’s one of four of those annoyingly unfurling ads in the issue, but this one’s different. Four pages of editorial content-that is, actual writing by New Yorker writers-is hidden inside. Simply flip open the advertisement and you get real New Yorker critics, including Anthony Lane, John Lahr and Peter Schjeldahl, writing for what is labeled “A Fall Preview” of the arts.
“It was a very unfortunate way to do it,” said one New Yorker writer.
New Yorker publisher David Carey said: “Too often in the past, clients have thought of The New Yorker for their small space ads. No more, if I can have my way.” He added that third-quarter advertising in the magazine is up 10 to 15 percent in ad pages, making it “the best August in 10 years.”
It’s the new, Times Square New Yorker , themed as a restaurant and with big signs everywhere. A quick call to the church-state watchdogs at the American Society of Magazine Editors revealed that they weren’t riled by it, as long as the editorial wasn’t about the subject of the enveloping ad. “That would be a problem,” said ASME executive director Marlene Kahan, who noted that Fortune and other publications had done the same thing recently. It’s just the advertiser-friendly innovation du jour . “I just think it hides the editorial. But it’s not a violation of our guidelines.”
Most readers probably didn’t even notice the fall preview section tucked inside the advertisement. Even one of the New Yorker critics couldn’t find it at first. He said he found the whole thing more “silly” than insidious.
“Advertisers are getting increasingly crafty these days,” Ms. Kahan added.
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