This spring has sung a dirge for magazines, with death blows already dealt to Cargo from Conde Nast Publications and Celebrity Living, Shape en Espanol and MPH from American Media. But those magazines had shown the usual symptoms that preceded typical closures, like soft newsstand sales.
Elle Girl, however, had met the very measures that once defined startup success. In less than five years -- it was born Aug. 28, 2001 -- its paid circulation surpassed half a million. Maybe it wasn't profitable --Hachette wouldn't say -- but ad pages were booming.
Jack Kliger, Hachette's chairman-CEO, cast the decision as particular to the teen category. "Every two to three years, we have to market to a whole new group," he said. "In order for a magazine to make business sense, we have to have a strong consumer model as well as a successful advertising story."
But Mr. Kliger has also scolded his peers over the distance they keep from the Internet. His company is already making all its titles available on the Zinio digital distribution platform, and its forthcoming Shock magazine will depend in large part on Web and mobile content in addition to paper.
"I have often said that the magazine industry has to embrace technology, and this is a good example of how we will extend a strong brand onto other media platforms," he said.
It is hard to imagine, however, that high-churn titles aimed at teens will be the only ones affected; it looks more likely that teen books are just the first. The idea of looking past paper has percolated for years -- when Radar folded the second time, more than a few people suggested that it made a better Web site than magazine -- but suddenly it seems to be happening. Look at Time Inc., the country's biggest and most storied magazine publisher, which fired up its first paperless publication in February with OfficePirates.com.
Conde Nast is developing a Web-only publication for teens, a project referenced last week by Mark Jarecke, Conde Net creative director, during a panel at the American Association of Advertising Agencies Management Conference.
"You used to be able to wait five years for the magazine to make money," said Polly Perkins, business-development director at AdMedia Partners. "Now you've got to say to yourself, 'Is it fair to wait five years when some of those dollars should be spent on interactive platforms for brands that are already profitable?"'
While most know this is the direction the industry is moving, it's still a jolt. "Recent communication from the magazine was that these readers were loving it," said Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment at MediaVest. "In this category ... there is room and a necessity for both vehicles, online and in-book."
It says something about this moment, torn between the past and the future, that when Mr. Kliger made a similar point in his staff memo last week, he sounded almost reluctant. "We recognize that there are times when print works best," he wrote, explaining Elle Girl will publish a few special issues. But, he added, "The day will never come when there is no print version of Elle."