Call it Us (Mostly) Weekly . Us Weekly , the glossy celebrity magazine that Jann Wenner launched with glitzy fanfare early last year, will scale back its publication cycle in 2001.
The magazine intends to publish 43 issues this year, five fewer than the number originally announced when Us converted from a monthly to a weekly in March of last year–and seven fewer than the number of issues (50) promised to subscribers in a form on the magazine’s Web site.
The reduced publication cycle represents another major recalculation in the young, expensive life of Us Weekly , upon which Mr. Wenner has spent tens of millions in an effort to take on the big boys of the celebrity-mag world. Last summer, the magazine slashed its print run from 1.8 million to 1 million copies and lowered its rate base–the circulation promised to advertisers–from one million to 800,000.
And now, instead of a full stable of weekly issues, Us Weekly will pull back and publish more special double issues. There are plans for an Oscar double issue, a celebrity-fitness double issue and–taking direct aim at the People franchise–a “most beautiful people” double issue. (Whether or not Us will get to call it an M.B.P. issue is up in the air; in November, Time Inc. filed a trademark application for the phrase “The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.”)
Us Weekly ‘s growing reliance on double issues is part of an effort to push down the massive costs of producing a weekly magazine–an effort that began last summer.
“The magazine has been doing extremely well in terms of an adjusted forecast or projection,” said Us Weekly publisher Victoria Lasdon Rose. “When we launched and we got the momentum underway, we started to see that there were more opportunities to do [double issues].”
Still, a brimming stack of double issues was probably not what Mr. Wenner had in mind when he committed $50 million to try to make Us –which had languished in the second or third tier of celebrity magazines–into a weekly success.
From the beginning, Mr. Wenner strategized that with heavy newsstand sales–aided by the wire racks he secured for the magazine with the help of pal David Pecker of American Media–he could get Us Weekly on the road to profitability. The magazine’s magic number–the sell-through rate, or the percentage of copies it would need to sell in order to be profitable–was targeted at 35 percent.
Early sales fell far short of that hopeful projection. Early on, Us Weekly ‘s sell-through hovered around an anemic 20 percent.
That number has risen recently, however. “We’re running about 30 percent,” Ms. Rose said. Still, the publisher acknowledged that since Us Weekly cut its print run nearly by half, it is not as gaudy an improvement as it appears.
“We did fall way short of [the original sell-through rate projection] in some spots, but I think the objective was to go as broadly as we could, to give it our confidence as much as we could, and then we could pare back from that–and that is what we did do,” said Ms. Rose.
One bright spot for Us Weekly ‘s finances has been its ad pages, which for the year-to-date through November were up 85 percent. Indeed, after poaching Car & Driver ‘s auto-industry sales team just before Christmas, Mr. Wenner may be signaling that he will have to boost his ad dollars in order to save himself from a bath.
Editorially, Us has had some success, having already become a player in the celebrity-scoop business. The magazine regularly nettles the editors at People and has achieved something that Us rarely had as a monthly: relevance.
Still, as Us Weekly earns a grudging respect for its scrappy style of star-watching, those in the magazine business are still wondering how Mr. Wenner will manage to turn the book into a financial winner. Back-of-the-envelope calculations around the industry estimate that he’s already gone through $30 million of his $50 million commitment.
In fact, unless Mr. Wenner is willing to absorb such heavy losses for another year, a logical next step is to convert Us Weekly into Us Biweekly .
“Printing a magazine that’s losing money is like printing money in reverse,” said Chip Block, publishing strategist at Ziff Davis Media, who served on the board of Mr. Wenner’s Straight Arrow Press from 1980 to 1982. “And the more frequently you print, the more money you lose.”
Ms. Rose, the publisher, insisted that Us Weekly will be sticking to its newfangled 43-issue-per-year schedule for now. But the long-term future is anyone’s guess. It was hard not to notice that, since around Labor Day, the word “Weekly” in the magazine’s cover has been getting smaller, to the point that it’s now the smallest piece of text besides the date and issue number.
Selena Roberts, The New York Times ‘ New York Knicks beat writer, was once rooted in the press section like a sequoia. As the basketball players slithered down the court with the unpredictable zigzags of a raindrop on a window pane, wondrous metaphors famously banged and careened in Ms. Roberts’ head.
Over the last three seasons, with her fingers curled over her keyboard like a water stream from a drinking fountain, Ms. Roberts dutifully filed copy on each Knicks game that made the editors at The Times proud.
Alas, this N.B.A. season (which, yes, has been underway for a couple of months already, but who really watches before January anyway?), Ms. Roberts is off the Knicks beat and taking over the tennis beat, which has been vacant since Robin Finn moved over to write for The Times ‘ Public Lives page. She is also pitching in for other sports work, including Olympic coverage, and recently spent New Year’s in Phoenix covering the Fiesta Bowl.
“She’s moved on to another one of our prestigious beats,” said an editor on the sports desk. “It’s more of a national stage.”
Taking over the Knicks coverage is Chris Broussard, who was paroled from his sentence of covering the New Jersey Nets. Prior to joining The Times in 1998, Mr. Broussard–whose prose is not nearly as florid as Ms. Roberts’–covered the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon-Journal .
Ms. Roberts did not return a call for comment.
Now sitting in a remainder stack at a Barnes & Noble near you: Vanity Fair’s Hollywood , the 320-page cavalcade of celebrity photographs culled from the archives of the Condé Nast glossy.
The book, which was released this October with a full campaign of publicity and buzz urging folks to give the book out as a gift, is fast becoming the Battlefield Earth of coffee-table books.
Vanity Fair’s Hollywood managed to bomb despite hearty critical praise from the likes of Steven Spielberg (“Here is a remarkable gallery of personal moments and uninhibited vanities captured forever”), Barry Diller (“You want it to never end”) and Liz Smith (“If you buy one book for Christmas, don’t hesitate to make it the massive Vanity Fair’s Hollywood “).
Even more surprisingly, it managed to bomb despite Allure columnist and Condé Nast employee Jeffrey Slonim’s impassioned plea in his Dec. 28 New York Post piece on New Year’s Eve etiquette. Mr. Slonim wrote: “Call ahead and ask if the host needs anything (extra ice, lemons, tonic water). And you can’t go wrong with a popular book like Vanity Fair’s Hollywood .”
(Yeah, drop the Veuve Clicquot! Muffy’s brought a celebrity coffee-table book!)
At the risk of sounding like party poopers, might we suggest that part of the problem was Mr. Slonim and his fellow Condé Nast employees? Traditionally a significant consumer of titles produced by Condé Nast writers and editors, company staffers were given a special opportunity to buy the book right before Christmas.
An e-mail sent out on Dec. 8 to everyone at 4 Times Square read: “Vanity Fair’s HOLLYWOOD is now available to employees at a significant discount. Order one, order two, order ten–books will be delivered before the holidays and make for excellent gifts.”
The discount depended on the total copies of the $60 book the entire Condé Nast empire ordered–$39.06 if fewer than 100 were ordered, to a Crazy Eddie-esque $26.04 if the employees wanted to pass out the book to 1,000 or more relatives and friends. After all was said and done, somewhere between 250 and 499 copies were ordered, so the per-book price was $32.55.
Today, the book sells for $30 on Amazon.com.