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Condé Nast shocker: A hard move, but smart

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cover_modernbride_190In a move that startled almost everybody, Condé Nast is closing four magazines: Gourmet, Cookie, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride.

At some level, though, this shouldn’t be a surprise; the two bride titles are simply maids of honor to Brides magazine – also owned by Condé Nast. Elegant Bride, with 150,000 total circulation is a niche magazine for those who plan to buy luxury weddings. Modern Bride, with 335,000 total circulation, is positioned as the hip, fun and stylish magazine in the segment. Brides is simply the No. 1 with 340,000 total circulation and, notably, a network of local/regional bridal magazines.cover_brides_190

Once upon a time, this kind of segmenting made sense.  It assured the perfect fit for every possible advertiser, and many of those advertisers – given a little incentive  – could find reason to buy into multiple titles.

I don’t have any idea how many of its bridal advertisers are still buying in multiple titles; I’m sure it’s a lot – but I’m also sure it’s not as many as a few years ago. Much of that piggyback revenue will be hard to replace. That’s why company executives needed a third-party consultant to tell them what they already knew: In today’s environment, it’s no longer economical for a magazine publisher to serve a category both horizontally and vertically.

Casting away two out of three heritage brands is scary, and some observers are already beating up the company for the decision. But I’m guessing that the publishers (Modern down 21 percent this year and Elegant down 32 percent) were already getting early reports of a continued bloodbath in 2010, as more  advertisers rationalize their  purchases across a few broad-based titles per category. If Condé Nast hadn’t made this gutsy call now, then its recession would simply drag on into next year.

By consolidating all bridal business into Brides, Condé Nast undoubtedly gives up a lot of revenue, but it also reduces a lot of expense. And what it gains is the ability to focus all development efforts on the one brand that is already recognized as the industry leader and that already encompasses all bridal niches. In fact, the company has said it plans to double Brides‘ frequency to 12x.

cover_gourmet_190The recipe is pretty much the same for Gourmet – which has a rate base of 950,000, compared to Bon Appetit (also owned by Condé Nast) with 1.3 million.

The company has probably had an increasingly difficult time justifying a two-book buy to its advertisers and has been told that it needs to make their ad buys simpler and more cost-effective.

Cookie is probably a different situation altogether. It’s a lifestyle magazine for the modern mother – a category that would overlap with parenting titles, women’s titles and shopping titles (of which Condé Nast closed one, Domino, early this year). It’s a hyper-competitive cover_bonap_190category and, founded just four years ago, Cookie (total circ: 550,000) probably never had a chance to develop its own secure presence in the shrinking marketplace. Other titles in the Condé Nast portfolio include Vogue, W, Glamour, Allure, Self and Lucky.

Condé Nast CEO Charles Townsend told the New York Times that the decision was simple: The four magazines were losing money and that’s no longer going to be tolerated. He also said no more closings are planned.

Which may be the truth. Today.

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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