Wed, Dec 01, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Magazine industry looks to next year with new crop of chiefs

It took 15 years from the advent of the Internet, but finally, magazines are switching their top leaders as they gear up to diversify their offerings online

By Jeremy W. Peters  /  NY Times News Service

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

For the magazine business, next year will be a year to watch — and not just because it could hold answers to lingering questions about the financial health of the industry.

Next year will be the first in a decade and a half that the four largest US magazine companies will all have new leaders, making it possible to judge whether the recent troubles in publishing can be addressed by changes in the executive suite. Or, if not, whether the problems run deeper than they now appear.

Over the summer, the magazine world’s own Velvet Revolution played out — a quick change of hands with relatively little discord: Ann Moore was out at Time Inc after eight years as chief executive, replaced by Jack Griffin, who was poached from his job leading Meredith’s magazine division. Meredith, the publishing giant responsible for Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle, promoted one of Griffin’s deputies, Tom Harty.

At Conde Nast, Charles Townsend, who had held the dual role of chief executive and president since 2004, agreed to hand over the job of president to a protege, Robert Sauerberg. And David Carey, a longtime Conde Nast executive, departed to lead Hearst Magazines, displacing Cathleen Black, a publishing industry fixture for three decades and now the embattled choice of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to be the city’s schools chancellor.

Not since the mid-1990s have those jobs turned over in quick succession, and that time, the changes happened over two years. Strikingly, the economic picture then was similar to what is occurring today. The business had just begun to spring back from the devastating effects of a recession that drove away advertisers and forced publishers to close magazines.

The new cadre of executives at the time — Steven Florio at Conde Nast, Christopher Little at Meredith, Don Logan at Time Inc and Black at Hearst — would steer their companies through periods of expansion and prosperity through the rest of the decade and beyond, an era when successful publications like O: The Oprah Magazine, Teen Vogue and Real Simple were born.

Whether the rebound from the economic collapse of 2008 and last year will prove as robust is an unsettled — and, to many, an unsettling — question. However, there is little doubt that the next generation of magazine company executives is confronting a media landscape in which the margin for error is far smaller, while uncertainty about whether readers and advertisers will remain loyal is more palpable than ever.

“This is the changing of the guard from an older school to a newer school,” said Justin Smith, president of the Atlantic Media Co.

The changes, he said, were part of an inevitable evolution in publishing that was perhaps long overdue.

“It is quite remarkable that it took until 2010, 15 years after the arrival of the Internet, for a new generation of leaders to emerge,” Smith said.

Indeed, the new generation is certainly more youthful, by corporate standards at least. Harty, 47, is the youngest. Carey and Sauerberg are both 49 and Griffin is 50.

They have either followed unconventional paths to the top or come from outside the companies they now help lead. Griffin was wooed from his job leading Meredith’s national media group to come to Time Inc.

Carey left Conde Nast to head Hearst Magazines, a crosstown rival. Sauerberg rose through the ranks at Conde Nast not through the more traditional publisher’s path, but through the consumer marketing division.

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