The Vogue was big. It rested heavily on a low-slung glass coffee table in publisher Tom Florio’s office—a magazine with the girth of a Yellow Pages. But it was not, by its own admission, the biggest.
Billing itself at “800 Pages” (though paginated to 802), the upcoming September Vogue falls shy of last year’s 832-page performance. The ritual “Biggest Issue Ever!” cover line is absent. Still, Mr. Florio had bigger things to count than pages.
“How do I feel about it?” Mr. Florio asked. “I feel good about it.” He eased forward in his leather armchair and picked it up, savoring the heft.
The 2005 September issue, Mr. Florio said, “has brought in more revenue for a monthly magazine than probably any magazine ever published in the world—since the cavemen.”
The cavemen, or other literal-minded folk, might be confused by the publisher’s definition of “magazine”: The $2 million revenue increase that Mr. Florio is reporting to the Publisher’s Information Bureau includes some money from Men’s Vogue, which will make its newsstand debut—still, officially, as a test product—in September, with its older sister as chaperone.
The bookkeeping fits with Mr. Florio’s concept of Vogue: a brand that can’t be contained by two covers, even when those covers are 1 1/8 inches apart. Hence the second publication on Mr. Florio’s coffee table: a Vogue marketing brochure, cut bigger than a tabloid newspaper, with a translucent bluish-white plastic cover.
The lush pages feature trippy, larger-than-Vogue versions of iconic Vogue photographs—including Annie Leibovitz’s December 2003 Wonderland shoot, with John Galliano as the mad Queen of Hearts to Natalia Vodianova’s flamingo-toting Alice. They also contain Mr. Florio’s blueprint for transforming Vogue from a women’s fashion title to “a world of experiences,” encompassing “dynamic multi-media platforms.”
The brochure touts, among other offerings, the Vogue documentary, Seamless, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April; plans for a theatrical release are ongoing. There’s also the Shopvogue.com Web site—roll over the ads and click to buy!—the syndicated television programming available in 78 million homes, the party planning group, the data-mining initiatives, and the in-house advertising studio for clients such as Bergdorf Goodman, Cartier and Cointreau (“campaigns … that pair unique ideas with the same incredible photographers and stylists who distinguish our editorial pages”).
And—oh, yeah—there are the magazines: Men’s Vogue, Teen Vogue and, if Mr. Florio has his way, Vogue Living sometime next year. And naturally, beyond and beneath it all, holding up the edifice: Anna Wintour’s Vogue, also known around headquarters as “Big Vogue.”
Even if it’s the teensiest bit not so big—or at least not so Biggest! From January through July, Vogue’s ad pages were down 2.5 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the Magazine Publishers of America.
As a stainless-steel coffee maker gurgled in the corner of his 12th-floor corner office, Mr. Florio made his case for alternative measures. “I have a file in my drawer, I could throw down every fashion magazine and show you what people are paying in their March issue,” he said. “And their discounts are between 68 and 80 percent to buy ads in these other magazines. What’s $150,000 in Vogue is literally $16,500 in another magazine …. I don’t look at their ads. They’re just giving away ads. The whole idea of tracking ads is absurd today because they don’t mean anything.”
Rival publishers disputed Mr. Florio’s claims of widespread cut-rate advertising. “We don’t discount,” said Stephanie George, president of In Style. “We work for a very big company called Time Inc., and they don’t need me to do that.”
Still, this year, Vogue raised its rate base—the circulation guaranteed to advertisers—to 1.2 million. “I get paid, and everyone who works for me gets paid, on revenue,” Mr. Florio said. “Not pages.”
For all his interest in the multimedia future, Mr. Florio is something of an atavistic figure: the last of a certain breed of Condé Nast publisher. Of the three “Italian Guys”—Mr. Florio, his brother Steven and “Mr. Big” Ron Galotti—who lunched annually at Da Silvano in Decembers throughout 90’s, Tom Florio is the only one still holding an active day-to-day position in the company.
His hot-blooded older brother stepped down as Condé Nast C.E.O. in January 2004; Mr. Galotti, the Vogue publisher from 1994 to 1998, retreated in March 2004 to a 100-acre farm in North Pomfret, Vt.
But the younger Mr. Florio was still in his 4 Times Square offices. His reaction to middle age, he said, has been to train for a 70-mile half Ironman triathlon scheduled for October. A slate-gray suit hugged his taut frame. “I like my wife, so I don’t want a 20-year-old girlfriend,” he said. “It’s much cheaper than a Porsche, and you end up looking a lot cuter in the end.”
Low-speed endurance training, he said, takes adjustment. “If you’re used to racing,” Mr. Florio said, “it’s a pain in the ass to go slow.”
He continued: “When I’m in the park on my bike and someone passes me, it’s like, ‘I’ll kill you!’ Like yesterday I was in the Park and I rode about 25 miles, and I was doing this low-heart-zone thing. And this guy passes me, and I’m like—I saw him on the back hill, and I was like, ‘You know what? I just got to kick his ass on the hill.’
“So I came from behind him, and I was like, Vrrrrrrum! And then I went back into my low heart rate.”
Such is restraint, Florio-style.
“Tom’s the last little bit of [that generation],” Mr. Galotti said. “The reality is, there’s been a change in the company. Condé Nast went from a business that was run on superficial success to one that’s operated more on real financial success.”
Under his hard-charging brother, Tom Florio was widely seen as being on the losing end of an asymmetric sibling rivalry—leading to his highly public transfer from the president’s seat at The New Yorker back to his former position as publisher of Condé Nast Traveler. Mr. Florio, however, denied that interpretation. “Believe me,” he said, “[Steven] had nothing to do with me moving in and out of The New Yorker, because I reported directly to Si [Newhouse].”
Yet answering to Steven Florio, he said, did mean that he “scaled back a little bit my kind of prima-donna thing, which I was a little more comfortable with before he was there. You know, it’s a lose-lose situation. It’s like, he would say no to everything, where before he was here, everybody said yes to me.”
Mr. Florio downplayed the idea of a cultural change at 4 Times Square. “I’ve been here since 1983 and I’ve been a publisher for a good amount of that time,” he said. “Si is as involved as he’s always been—the company is bigger, is what’s different. It’s not that he’s not involved. There were how many magazines then, seven? Today there’s 20-something …. Believe me, when we sit down and talk to Mr. Newhouse, and talk about a creative idea or a business idea, there’s not a question he doesn’t think to ask that’s like, you better be on game.”
And in the present climate, Mr. Florio’s own role is evolving. He is drawing up staffing plans for a Men’s Vogue business department apart from Big Vogue’s. The test issue is fat with premium advertising. “We have Hinckley Yachts,” Mr. Florio said, “and we have [Ralph Lauren] Purple Label, and $1,400 single-malt scotch …. We have brands that don’t advertise. We did 164 pages—when the budget was 70, right?”
If the newsstand sales are comparably strong, Mr. Florio plans to bring on a publisher for the men’s title. He declined to say whether that would move him into a group-publisher position overseeing the entire Vogue family. At present, the two-year-old Teen Vogue is under publisher and V.P. Gina Sanders—the wife of Si Newhouse’s nephew Steven Newhouse, a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Newhouse when he eventually retires.
“There are a lot of options right now,” Mr. Florio said. “I think Teen Vogue is doing just fine. We haven’t made any decisions about if Men’s Vogue would become part of a group situation or not. This is all in discussion right now. We’ll make decisions based on what’s best for the brand and what’s best for the company.”
And what’s best for the brand, in Mr. Florio’s estimation, is to get beyond that glossy 800-page annual monument. The inspiration, in part, was In Style—the only fashion magazine, Mr. Florio said, to rival Vogue’s ad-page count.
“And the only reason In Style gets up there,” he said, “is because of all their supplements—which they do brilliantly. I am not putting them down.
“If anything,” he continued, “it made us think, ‘Wait a minute, our brand is pretty damn important. Maybe [we] should extend our brand and get into that business.’”
In Style? Somewhere, under an immaculately tasteful headstone, one could almost hear Diana Vreeland spinning like a gyroscope. Attention, ladies: In Style is the new Vogue?
Not at all, according to Mr. Florio. Citing Malcolm Gladwell and tipping-point theory, he described his theory of Vogue’s role—as “a brand that has both change agents and masses reading it.”
Most magazines, he said, have one or the other class. “In Style doesn’t have change agents, they have masses,” he said. “Vanity Fair has change agents …. In Vogue, you have the fashion elite, the society elite, as well as that woman out there in Minneapolis who might go to H and M or whatever.”
And so you have a brand capable of expanding into a multidimensional experience. “One of the things about Vogue and the Vogue brand,” Mr. Florio said, “we’re as active off the page, in the design studio, consulting the C.E.O. who the next designer should be, as we are on the page. Actually, we’re more. I call Anna the McKinsey of fashion, because she is like McKinsey in the way she advises people.”
McKinsey? Is that whizzing noise Ms. Vreeland again?
The consulting work, Mr. Florio said, “was about what we do. It was about our taste and our style.”
“The limits of the Vogue brand,” Mr. Florio said, “will be dictated by our taste.”
New York Times pundit standings, Aug. 9-15
1. Frank Rich, score 25.0 [no rank last week]
2. Paul Krugman, 22.0 [rank last week: 1st]
3. Maureen Dowd, 17.5 [no rank]
4. David Brooks, 11.0 [3rd]
5. Bob Herbert, 3.0 [tie—5th]
6. (tie) Nicholas D. Kristof, 0.0 [4th]
John Tierney, 0.0 [tie—5th]
Maureen Dowd bounced back from book leave with the No. 2 column on the week’s Most E-Mailed list, a piece pegged to the news of war-protesting mother Cindy Sheehan. No stockpiled evergreens for Ms. Dowd! But Paul Krugman outbattled Ms. Dowd for second place overall, through sheer consistency and endurance; his bolus of mid-scoring columns included one held over from the previous week. And speaking of consistency: As the summer roster kept shifting with the pundits’ vacation schedule, John Tierney moved from a scoreless tie for fifth place to a scoreless tie for sixth place. You could set your watch by Mr. Tierney—if you lived someplace where it was always 0:00 o’clock.
Correction: The Aug. 8 Off the Record story about Lachlan Murdoch’s resignation from his News Corp. duties stated that Mr. Murdoch’s job of supervising Fox’s television station group had been “reassigned to Fox News boss Roger Ailes.” After the publication of the item, representatives of Fox News contacted Off the Record multiple times to state that the claim was false. As of Aug. 8, according to Fox News, Mr. Ailes had not been put in charge of the station group. Mr. Ailes was put in charge of the station group on Aug. 15. “When you wrote it, it was wrong,” said Fox News spokesperson Irena Briganti. Off the Record regrets the error.