On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the heads of the international bureaus of Blouin Artinfo received an email from Louise Blouin Media Vice Chairman Bruce Ferguson, who joined the company in September and whom many of the editors had not met.
“LB MEDIA is in the process of re-structuring its editorial bureaus in order to respond to new contingencies,” the email read. “As a result, for the bureau and its site only, and effective immediately, there will be one bureau chief – you – and one translator only, of your choosing, only for the site. You will choose the translator who is expected to produce 10,000 words per week. Other contracts will be honored with payments until today only. A discussion of a budget for free-lance writers will occur in the near future. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”
The email meant that Blouin Media, which publishes the popular art magazines Art+Auction and Modern Painters, had effectively voided the freelance contracts of some 25 international web employees, though some affected by the cuts estimate that it may be more than that. This came as a surprise for most of the editors, since over the past few years the website seemed to be expanding internationally to 20 “portals,” to use the company terminology, each portal with a few writers, all of them working from home. At the time of the cuts, most international freelancers were owed around two months’ payment, which was why they would speak to The Observer only anonymously.
In an interview on Thursday, Dec. 5, Blouin Media President Ben Hartley, who acts as company spokesman, declined to give any details of the contract terminations, including how many employees had been affected or how much money the company hoped to save under its new model. (In a later interview, he also declined to comment on the email from Bruce Ferguson saying, “I’m not going to comment on internal and privileged communications from our vice chairman to our employees.”) Mr. Hartley even disagreed that the company was curtailing its international coverage.
“We’re going to provide the same coverage, just in a better way,” he said.
“Though, with fewer writers?” The Observer asked.
“That’s you saying that, not me,” he said.
On the evening of Friday, Dec. 6, Artinfo posted a news story under the byline Blouin Artinfo that was essentially a press release about the canceled contracts. This included the line “[a]s part of the restructuring, LBM will transition 25 of its international editorial staff to work in a freelance capacity, while concurrently increasing its global freelance staff in the months ahead,” which would seem to be an inaccurate description of the situation, since the employees affected by the restructuring were already freelance. By Monday the post had been taken down.
Over that weekend remaining international Blouin employees received the following email from Ms. Blouin herself, the company’s CEO and sole owner, a rallying cry and a new model for the international sites moving forward:
Let me highlight what we have done and what we are doing and where we need to go then you can convey it to first our team and write an article
Lets org a call with all the editorial this week Robert can lead and discuss the CNN go model
By next wed please sort out the calendars by country of the must needs as to the must cover make sure this is done if we do not have the calendar from mags and online from auctions from galleries from fairs from opera film we will miss on the content and it optimization and efficiencies and double effort
We want one freelancer for opera how many big top operas
We want one for classical music for the top top
We want one for wine
One for jewelry nazarin Sonia katya
And we mix the writers with specialist voice francois cutie for ex for the auction we need to hear the market or Bennet who is Tom gem expert
Each time we write a story it needs to be linked video or paper online if it is top event
The video calendar should be of the top event and top artist covered as a bio studio existence and show something we can look at in 30 years
We should not go to interview without a written piece to optimize
Once a day we should have or more a video that is to be shared around the world by category
One top artist Interview wherever it is share translate in the world 30 minutes and 10 minute one short and long why because we are building artist page with many component it will have their videos so we need someone to call from India every institution we can promote their museum their catalogue raisonne
One day top designer other day top CEO fashion or top opera diva top and we should share around the world that video it is the video of the day
We have launched 20 sites next one is Middle East chili Switzerland ( run for now through Germany )
We have launched x dailies
We have launched bl
We r launching Chinese version
We have invested and will on eat more in video around the world
This is the product strategy that we have never said and being silent is good or not I can not worry about this as I like when product speaks for itself and I have been focusing on the brands
The future of content investing more in video
Searching for talented talent in the expansion of our various categories that are linked performing arts lifestyle
We are not to have a writer of performing arts say o can not remember what we wrote about carnegy and having non specialist write about dance
The strategy is more blogs which is only happening in ny and not many in other countries and specialist but voices less content but the best
If we have a translator in each country doing 10 ooo words
And we keep most at 200 words article it is 8 to 10 a day for a foreign site so this is a lot then u want to add but the top top with the best eye the best ear nothing but the best
To go to old master and see frieze masters in the home page is not goodink the old master Aa online link the experts to be stronger
One person doing all and not good we need less of one but many more
Having a wine person full time when we need one story feature a month is the way within 2 week pices with video every week
CNN go model and ft. Model spreading global with more specialist more video
This week whom in the world do an artist studio when wl be showed in the different sites
What I want is more video with top people one a week to two per country and New York more
One a day video is the biggest slideshow
I am going to close a deal with orange huge so be ready only top top interviews
Bruce Eric did we close Henry LOYRETTE do one video a month and one feature in mp
This is what we want less but top
By going with one top but less it work better and the key is to share
Museum shows at the met louvre …… Need to be covered they r the must
For ex egmont at 50 ooo versus
One video a week one feature and one story a week is 12 ooo and we can chage as we need and we can use differently
For the optimization to work
I will need exactly whom is covering when the auctions and work with all visual arts around the world what is important then we say what do we need to cover by video and have experts
The model we did at the start Benjamin and I worked when we had few sites but today
We have a lot of content 17 sites if you have one site it is 2 to stories a day plus freelance
34 stories plus big site have 5 a day
Calendar matrix auction museum fashion all by genre to share
Link museum shows with studios
To share across the board
Music classical and opera
All auction must be covered
Template on how to Microsoft be done for auctions museum performing arts film clippings
Maybe use for video a team that we can use in India
And I would like urgently the market info with graphs 5 pages in Aa and lots online
One bureau chief with a solid calendar Robert to help Ty with visual arts or fashion
One other for the big cities
Then the one offs
The key is one video in the world for top artist one top diva one top designer 5 days someone is shooting and sharing
A great Japanese designer is good to be seen by anyone same for music
Those who found themselves without contracts were distraught. One had been contracted as recently as this past summer.
“They expanded too quickly and now they’ve imploded,” one wrote in an email. “All of it seems like we’re just victims of Louise’s vanity project, but she has no clue whatsoever how to run a business.”
“You can’t speak logic to crazy,” one said over the phone, when asked why Ms. Blouin says she’s expanding when in fact she’d just let go a number of employees. “And I don’t think this is a terrifically stable woman. She’s certainly unsympathetic. To fire a spate of writers three weeks before Christmas should signal that alone.”
Two former Blouin employees claimed that their contracts included provisions that said neither party could terminate the contract without 30 days notice. “Some people came on later and had different terms,” this person said. “But I know what mine says.”
Yesterday longtime Blouin Editorial Director Benjamin Genocchio announced that he would leave the company to start a new journalistic art website with the art start-up Artnet.
Mr. Hartley said Mr. Gennochio’s departure is unrelated to the international restructuring. “Ben Genocchio is a true professional, a good friend and a trusted colleague,” he said. “I wish him well.”