The Gilded Age of Condé Nast Is Over

Obviously, any companywide cuts would still affect the magazine, but as the company prepares for a retrenchment of sorts, it appears The New Yorker will be immune from the pain that other editors and publishers in the building are anticipating. It turns out the popular line from several Condé Nast insiders over the last few weeks—“There are no sacred cows”—is only partially true.

 

WHEN WE ASKED Mr. Townsend with whom McKinsey would be meeting, he said, “This is an eight-week period and they are going to meet with as many people as they realistically can, but I haven’t given them a list of people to meet with.

“What I asked them to do was to take a top-down look at the way we do business. Our processes. The way we do business. The use of technology. The way we deploy our resources in the pursuit of revenue. The way we communicate. The way we market to the consumer.”

So with three weeks completed, and eight weeks to go before McKinsey is gone, how does Condé Nast look to those at the top?

“I’ll tell you right out front that things—by that, I mean actions surrounding the actual putting out of magazines—are not appreciably different,” emailed Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “If you didn’t know the magazine economy was off the way it is, you’d never detect it from walking through the offices here.”

“We just got new computers, and there’s still film in the camera and we’re more than able to do the most important thing, which is to publish the best possible work and pay well for it,” said New Yorker editor David Remnick.

“I think the reality is that every successful magazine editor has had his or her eye on the bottom line for a long time,” said Glamour editor Cindi Leive. “The stereotype, even at the most glamorous fashion magazines, of the editor who has three-hour lunches and whisks away on a private jet every weekend is probably just a stereotype. We’ve all been thinking about budgets for quite a long time and probably wouldn’t be able to keep our jobs if we weren’t.”

But in conversations with all sorts of staffers on both the edit and business sides, we heard a slightly different story. “I really think twice about using a car now, and these drivers, their business is down between 50 and 70 percent,” said one business-side insider with access to a car. “These drivers are basically losing their entire livelihood. My driver said he’s going to probably sell his car and open a pizza parlor.

And don’t even think about treating a client to body treatment.

“Going to the spa is no longer a form of client entertainment,” said the business insider. “Women at this company will take clients to massages or mani-pedis. If your face is in a face cradle, that’s not going to be considered client entertainment anymore!” 

It used to be that on Monday mornings, the flower deliverymen would clog the elevators while they brought fresh bouquets for editors’ and publishers’ desks.

“You don’t really see them anymore,” said a source.

“In the old days, everyone sent gifts to everyone else,” said another source, a senior editor. “If someone had a baby, they might get eight deliveries of flowers from the office. And everyone would expense it. The elevators used to be full because all the deliverers would come up with the passengers. You would ride the elevators, there would be lots of flowers and all sorts of gift bags and you’d try to look at the name tags of the people getting them. But there’s not many of those rides on the elevators these days.” 

But what about dinner with a source or a client?

“Now we say things like, ‘Let’s go to Pret A Manger instead of going to Sushi Zen—let’s get sandwiches instead,” said another source.

Or, that source added, lots and lots of coffee instead of dinner and drinks.

Same goes for executive-to-executive lunching. Our source told us a story: “At the end of the lunch, she asks me, ‘Do you want to split it?’ And I was thinking, ‘How aren’t we expensing this!’ Going out to lunch, even among two executives, and we’re worried about expensing it because of the meaning it might take.”