Thanks To Hearst, Mags Now Realize Overspending Is Bad

Corporate culture at magazine publishing houses is often portrayed as really, really luxe. And that’s because it is. Or at least it used to be, until a year or so ago, when the glossy publication business started to slowly melt into a puddle of dwindling advertising revenue, hiring freezes and general fear and malcontent.

But Hearst, which will be the country’s second largest magazine publisher by the time it completes its deal to buy Elle and other titles from Lagardere, managed to make it through all of that horror by continuously keeping both its budgets and its staffs leaner than most androgynous male models — and keeping its nose out of the air. And now, it’s doing what Time Inc. (the biggest publisher in the country) and Conde Nast (which is slowly sliding from second to third biggest) can’t even think about doing: spending over a billion dollars on those new acquisitions. As much as we poke fun at Cosmo and Marie Claire, at least their bookkeeping looks really good.

WWD reports that that’s why Hearst’s strategy is now being mimicked in the halls of magazine publishers from New York to Des Moines. No more professionally decorated offices, no more expensive lunches put on the corporate Amex — and certainly no more car service for senior editors who refuse to catch the train in the morning. (Unless you’re Anna Wintour. Word on the street is that she still gets a Towncar.)

But beyond that, no more general snootiness when it comes to evaluating what might be a good magazine to open — or to keep open. When Hearst launched Food Network Magazine, the magazine world made fun of it. Now that title is “the best-selling food magazine off the newsstand, the third best in selling ads, and its ad pages rose 78 percent in 2010,” according to WWD.

And in a business where bottom lines are becoming more and more important, 78 percent is an astronomically big deal. We know that the iPad isn’t going to take care of the industry on it’s own, so now we’re waiting to see what long term impacts lower budgets will have at our favorite fashion glossies. Will the new frugality mean that editors will produce spreads that don’t feel as high-quality as they used to? We’re hoping that doing more with less will prompt our favorite stylists to be a little more creative.

The King of Hearst [WWD, Subscription Required]

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