Empty Nast Syndrome: At Last Week’s Condé Nast Executive Meeting, Several Titles Were in Doubt

Early last week, the survival of several Condé Nast titles was in doubt.

According to sources familiar with the situation, when Condé Nast executives walked into a weekly meeting last Monday, October 27th at their headquarters at 4 Times Square, it was not clear whether chairman Si Newhouse and C.E.O. Chuck Townsend would decide to scale back several titles, or to fold them entirely.

Two magazines, Portfolio and Men’s Vogue, were specifically in trouble. Both magazines are newer titles for the company—18-months- and 3-years-old respectively—and have had difficulty drawing instant results, particularly in an ad climate that Condé Nast executive director Tom Wallace told the Portfolio staff later was the worst he had ever seen.

In its first full year, Portfolio has been struggling as a business. This year it is on track to lose roughly $20 million, according to two Condé Nast sources.

But in the marathon discussions, as everyone knows now, both magazines were saved, albeit in a reduced state. Condé Nast would all but end its support for portfolio.com by eliminating most of its employees, and the monthly magazine would run 10 times next year. Men’s Vogue would have to lay off the vast majority of its staff and would run only twice a year.

Men’s Vogue had the support of its publishing director, Tom Florio, and its editorial director, Anna Wintour, a person who has always had sway with Mr. Newhouse.

For Portfolio, its most vocal supporters included David Carey, a Condé Nast group president and formerly publisher of the magazine, along with Tom Wallace, who has been one of the few executives to publicly endorse the magazine this year, which he did in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily in April. At the meeting, both passionately lobbied Mr. Newhouse, and their efforts were ultimately rewarded.

There would, of course, be greater sacrifices for Portfolio.

The company has decided each magazine has eliminate 10 percent from the budgets of both its editorial and business staffs (5 percent for non-salaried commitments; 5 percent from its payroll). Many magazines have been saved from the burden of cutting staff, and instead are fulfilling the cut requirement by eliminating unfilled positions.

Portfolio, however, was told it had to cut 20 percent of its staff. The layoffs are nearly complete at the magazine, and they include decision to lay off three senior editors and all of its staff writers except for Jesse Eisinger who was offered a position as editor-at-large. (Some staff writers are being given the option of signing a contract). [Update, 4:24 p.m.: Not all staff writers were offered contracts.]

In another example of his support, Mr. Wallace made his first appearance at a staff meeting at the magazine on Thursday, October 30th where Joanne Lipman announced the layoffs. He said the magazine had the full backing of Si Newhouse.

And those two weren’t the only magazines whose survival was in doubt. One of the company’s bridal titles, Elegant Bride, was also said to be in trouble, according to a Condé Nast source.

Ad Age reported that two supplemental magazines, Fashion Rocks and Movies Rock, will not run next year.

Empty Nast Syndrome: At Last Week’s Condé Nast Executive Meeting, Several Titles Were in Doubt