Carey said editorial was never the problem. “While Portfolio perhaps did not win over what I refer to as the "Snarkanistas,' it very much did with its readership,” he said after the shutdown. “We have received hundreds and hundreds of e-mails this week from CEOs, CMOs and others about how much they enjoyed the publication, its point of differentiation and how much they looked forward to reading it.”
Portfolio did earn editorial recognition from other quarters too, winning a National Magazine Award for its “Briefs” section last year and getting nominated for three Loeb Awards for business and financial journalism.
And readers indeed came. Portfolio averaged 335,612 paid subscribers during the second half of 2008, up 43% from the first half. Newsstand sales slipped 11% at the same time, but Condé attributed that to casual readers becoming subscribers.
All the same, Portfolio first neared death around that time. To save it, and in hopes of getting it through 2009, Condé made layoffs, trimmed its frequency to 10 times a year from 12 and took an ax to the Web site, which many considered the most promising part of the operation. Last November, Portfolio.com attracted 1.7 million unique visitors, according to Compete. By March, visitors had fallen to 957,485.
Condé lost a massive, although undisclosed, sum on its attempt to launch Portfolio. The original plan provided for spending $100 million over five years. The staff numbered 140 at its peak and still counted about 85 last week. Portfolio charged subscribers just $12 for 12-issue subscriptions, meanwhile, a low price that made ad revenue all the more important.
Portfolio's ad pages from January through April fell 61% from the period a year earlier, which included one more issue, according to the “Media Industry Newsletter.” Most magazines suffered but not nearly that much; ad pages for monthlies fell 22% from January through April. According to Publishers Information Bureau data, the title's revenue as calculated by multiplying number of pages by the one-time open rate, totaled $35 million in 2008 and $29 million in 2007.
American City Business Journals, a Condé Nast sibling within Advance, expressed interest in taking over Portfolio.com if the magazine left print, several people said last week, but nothing came of it. One person said American City Business Journals had renewed its interest since the shutdown last Monday; the company did not respond to a message left seeking comment.
Nat Ives is a reporter for Advertising Age, a BtoB sibling publication.