Condé Nast Is Experiencing Technical Difficulties

While other media rushed online, Condé Nast dug in its Louboutin heels. Now, with its much ballyhooed iPad play stalling out--so 2010!--the knives are out for digital wonder boy Scott Dadich.

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Mr. Dadich

Not long after Scott Dadich was appointed executive editor of digital magazine development for all of Condé Nast, “the tops of the mastheads,” as the senior editorial staffs are called, filed into the company’s fourth-floor lecture hall for a series of meetings. Condé’s new iPad king was holding court.

This wasn’t the first time the tastemakers of 4 Times Square had met Mr. Dadich. He’d been shopping “that Wired thing” around the company since it debuted in iTunes’ App Store in May 2010 to considerable fanfare and a flurry of downloads.

But this time, Mr. Dadich faced a few more sets of crossed arms.

Mr. Dadich’s coronation, in August 2010, had come with a big window office on the seventh floor and a mandate to lead the brands that Si Newhouse built into the brave new world of the tablet, a device so shiny and elegant it made Condé’s stable of glossies look dull by comparison. Not surprisingly, Mr. Dadich’s arrival also brought a share of resentment his way in no small part because, even in the pages of this paper, his ascent from Wired, where he had spun a lagging title into ASME gold as creative director, was presented in near-messianic terms.

In a profile of Mr. Dadich in The Observer last August, Evan Smith, his former boss at Texas Monthly, likened Mr. Dadich to a “combination of Jesus and Pelé” before deciding, a moment later, that a comparison to Miles Davis and Frank Lloyd Wright was more apt. Legendary Esquire art director George Lois was, if possible, even more effusive about Condé’s new It Boy, declaring, “With a talent like Scott, magazines will never die.”

Within 4 Times Square, such praise was met with a degree of skepticism, but the breathless optimism among the Condé kingmakers who backed Mr. Dadich was to be expected. It’s hard to find a print dinosaur that doesn’t drool a little, post-recession, over the possibility of wading into a teeming new revenue stream. But Condé Nast felt the pressure more acutely than most. Mr. Newhouse’s puritanical if lavish stewardship of his beloved titles had left the company playing a careful game of wait-and-see through roughly the first three-quarters of the Internet revolution.

Condé’s initial flirtations with the web had been coy and tentative. Rather than sully established titles like Gourmet and Vogue, the company launched new sites, including Epicurious.com and Style.com, as a way of protecting its spoiled progeny from the rough-and-tumble Internet.

While Condé Nast was far from the only media company to find its established business model upended by the web, it appeared to be more paralyzed than most by the shift, perhaps because, in some ways, the rules of online media ran counter to the entire culture of the company. Where Condé Nast had been built on the notion of exclusivity—the idea that its gatekeepers held the keys to a sort of private club, doling out access to readers one glamorous photo spread or finely-turned phrase at a time—the Internet was messy, democratic and fundamentally untamable. Marquee titles like Vanity Fair, Vogue and the New Yorker seemed obsessed with hierarchies. The web obliterated them. Mr. Newhouse’s painstakingly constructed and assiduously policed royal court had come under threat—the villagers were massing at the gates!—and the ambivalence within the company was apparent: every attempt to welcome in the hoi polloi was met with an opposing impulse to head for higher ground on the castle wall.

Former web editors are still baffled by budgets that allowed for a suite to cover the Oscar party at Morton’s but can’t seem to assign to an extra desk for an online editor. Permission was required from the tech side before any print content was posted online. Nine months could crawl by before a request for an RSS feed or comment system on a site made its way through the system. Up until a few years ago, editorial staffers were shackled to a bloated corporate content management system that “forces web editors to spend enormous amounts of time wrangling the system instead of creating content,” according to one insider.

When individual titles began make their own forays into the web, they did so gingerly, slapping up what seemed to be placeholder sites geared mostly to picking up subscriptions. Meanwhile, rivals were popping up everywhere. “The biggest shame was that Vogue wasn’t Net-a-porter,” a former Condé Nast print editor told The Observer. “That was the missed opportunity of the century.”

The iPad, then, promised more than just a do-over. It was a chance for redemption. See what we did there? We’re not extinct! And for all his technical wizardry, Steve Jobs seemed a worthy partner, with his refined aesthetic and affinity for gated communities not unlike the neighborhood Condé Nast had occupied for years. The iPad seemed to promise that, both financially and culturally, the company could resort to its comfy old habits and maybe still survive.

Condé Nast’s digital efforts have been restructured so many times, it’s hard to keep the chronology straight. But call it CondéNet or Condé Nast Digital—as the digital arm has been named at various times—in some ways, it’s the same as it ever was.

Comments

  1. Angrywade says:

    “Based in Silicon Valley, Adobe *had seen saw* where the business was heading

  2. Mike says:

    The very noticeable typo in the sub-headline makes me think I should have this copyrighter’s job. 

    1. spragued says:

      No, no, no —  NYO is criticizing another media company’s online efforts. The typos and bad grammar they dropped into this article are IRONIC.

      Right.

      1. Natsharkman says:

        Unless of course they put the “breaks” on irony like they did with their iPad publishing plans…

    2. Nick says:

      The very noticeable misuse of the word “copyrighter” makes me think you should probably not try out for any copy editing jobs at all.

  3. Mike says:

    The very noticeable typo in the sub-headline makes me think I should have this copyrighter’s job. 

  4. BooBoo says:

    “What we’re are going to do . . . ”
    Does the Observer even have any copy editors?

  5. BooBoo says:

    “What we’re are going to do . . . ”
    Does the Observer even have any copy editors?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Interesting that nary a technology person was quoted in this article. You have design folks quoted left and right and some editors (including some people who are all talk and no cattle), but these aren’t people who actually understand the plumbing. It’s tech that will make this happen. As for the Adobe thing, the other item that you don’t mention is that Adobe purchased a CMS company last year that will tightly integrate with Conde Nast’s existing publishing technology. So for quotidian e-editions, this should work quite well. Investing tons of labor into each e-issue is not sustainable — as early magazine app builders found out — so creating an assembly line is a good solution. It doesn’t preclude more advanced solutions or hybrids.

    1. Nitasha Tiku says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and pointing out the Adobe/Day Software deal. I spoke to tech sources who are not named in the piece, but are you not counting Erin Sparling (WSJ director of design technology) as a tech person?

      1. Anonymous says:

        If people in Erin’s group consider themselves to be engineers, then that’s tech. If they consider themselves to be designers who understand technology (know some JavaScript, HTML and CSS), that’s design. And if they’re embedded in the newsroom, they’re likely to have less-than-rigorous development practices that further distances them from an engineering group. Don’t know you at all, so no offense.

        There’s a meme that’s been circulating the past few years that if journos take a few programming courses, they earn their tech stripes (see Jennifer 8 Lee for an example of this). No more so than techies who have blogs become journalists. While valid claims could be made for both (probably more for techies who write), creating systems that handle large volumes of content in a reliable, cost-effective manner is a discipline unto its own. The infusion of consumer tech has falsely made many folks think they’re experts when in fact they’re amateurs. Luckily, there are plenty of true tech gods and goddesses out there who can clean up the messes (and I have first-hand knowledge from many publishing companies, including WSJ, where this has happened). Once you hang around these folks a bit, the difference is quite obvious.

      2. Anonymous says:

        If people in Erin’s group consider themselves to be engineers, then that’s tech. If they consider themselves to be designers who understand technology (know some JavaScript, HTML and CSS), that’s design. And if they’re embedded in the newsroom, they’re likely to have less-than-rigorous development practices that further distances them from an engineering group. Don’t know you at all, so no offense.

        There’s a meme that’s been circulating the past few years that if journos take a few programming courses, they earn their tech stripes (see Jennifer 8 Lee for an example of this). No more so than techies who have blogs become journalists. While valid claims could be made for both (probably more for techies who write), creating systems that handle large volumes of content in a reliable, cost-effective manner is a discipline unto its own. The infusion of consumer tech has falsely made many folks think they’re experts when in fact they’re amateurs. Luckily, there are plenty of true tech gods and goddesses out there who can clean up the messes (and I have first-hand knowledge from many publishing companies, including WSJ, where this has happened). Once you hang around these folks a bit, the difference is quite obvious.

    2. The Design Technology team at WSJ is specifically designed to be the intersection between designers and technologists, to help facilitate creating products that are designed around a technology’s limitations, and helping technology plan around reaching a design’s goals. Saying “It’s tech that will make this happen” is exactly how companies get into tech-driven product design strategies, where the ultimate goal is adhering to tech roadmaps, and not to facilitating the best user experience.

  7. Calmeilles says:

    “It’s like going to a Broadway stage crew, who are very talented at what
    they’re doing, and saying, ‘Can you help us create the next summer
    movie blockbuster?’”

    To which they answer:  “Put a camer in the stalls and point it at the stage.”

  8. nilsson says:

    Conde Nast has “stalled out”?  Please. What a one-sided, and shortsighted article.  If anyone in their right minds thinks that laying new ground, and a new way forward in today’s technological landscape is easy then they, like the complainers at CN, have a huge lesson to learn.  Are we to feel sorry for those in art departments who “have had to give up their coveted down weeks between issues—time they
    once spent visiting museums and dreaming up gorgeous new layouts—in
    favor of working late on weeknights and weekends”?  Welcome to 2011!  As someone who is responsible for keeping up with the way new technology can be leveraged to reach consumers, my job is exponentially harder than it was even 2 years ago.  At least Conde Nast is taking the necessary steps forward, and willing to aim for advancement.  Consumer adoption of the iPad is growing, but there is still a great need to figure out the best way to engage with them in this medium.  I applaud the companies who are willing to take the leap-and the criticism that may come-to embrace the change.  While I appreciate that change may be hard for some, if you can’t get on board, then move over and let one of the many talented people who have been hungry for work step in and take over.  This will leave plenty of time for “visiting museums and dreaming up gorgeous new layouts.”

  9. clubdriver says:

    Certain points are valid, many are untested. The digital magazine baby is  a toddler and Dadich was the right parent at the right time to nurse it when it was a baby. His foresight is a strength and that may be another reason Conde boosted him to VP. But now, the waters are tested. So same situation presenting itself now, couple years later? Maybe he wouldn’t be the guy.  My take on it all? Heck, cash in on Conde when you can, great work Scott!