Commentary

Conde Nast Quietly Cuts Magazine Staff As Mastheads Shrink

Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair, has quietly trimmed staff in the past six months, according to an analysis of its mastheads by WWD.

The cuts came as the company looked for a new CEO to replace Bob Sauerberg, who stepped down in November as part of a broader restructuring that combined its U.S. and international divisions. The publisher this month named Roger Lynch, the former CEO of music streaming service, to the top job.

Vogue’s most recent masthead shows 12 fewer people and Vanity Fair has 13 fewer people than they did six months ago, according to WWD reporter Kali Hays. The company told her that “less than 10” people had been let go during that period.

Freelancers who appeared on the mastheads were cycled out, while others joined the company’s “creative group” that’s separate from any single magazine title, a spokesperson told WWD.

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Some staffers left the company to pursue other opportunities, including Edward Barsamian, who quit as style editor of vogue.com and joined Victoria Beckham’s brand. His role at Vogue won’t be filled. Features editor Eve MacSweeney also left, and her LinkedIn profile now describes her as a literary manager and contributing editor to Vogue. 

At Vanity Fair, Jon Kelly last month left his post as founding editor of The Hive, the magazine’s news and culture vertical, telling the New York Post it “was the right time to do something new.” Successor John Homans has kept responsibilities as executive editor. West Coast editor Krista Smith left the magazine to join video streaming giant Netflix.

Lynch will take the reigns next week, starting with a “listening tour” of CN’s offices that will culminate in a strategy.

Given Lynch’s background as a banker with digital media expertise, I expect him to seek more job cuts and operational efficiencies before preparing the company for a sale.

Lynch was at Pandora, his last job, for 18 months before Sirius XM acquired the company amid growing competition from tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon. Even music streaming leader Spotify doesn’t look safe as Silicon Valley companies boost investments in distributing digital content.

Advertisers have grown to expect that publishers provide more opportunities than print ad inserts, especially since the migration to mobile and online platforms shows no sign of ending.

Selling print ads is easy compared with creating branded digital content that helps marketers cut through the clutter.

That’s why publishers like Meredith and The New York Times are building up their in-house creative studios. They aim to compete more effectively against social-media platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, that rely on user-generated content (UGC). The problem with UGC is that it has become rife with hate speech, political propaganda and kiddie porn anathema to brands.

Condé Nast has plenty of editorial and creative talent. The company needs to focus its energies on social- and mobile-first strategies that will appeal to advertisers and the readers they seek to reach.

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