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Publisher Seeks New Formula for Newsstand Sales Turnaround

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Wenner Media today named Ed Needham managing editor of Rolling Stone with the hopes
The cover of one of Mr. Needham's recent journalistic accomplishments. Click to see
larger photo.

he can revive the flagship title's flagging fortunes.

The naming of Mr. Needham, editor in chief of the American edition of the men's magazine FHM, capped a high-profile search that began after the former managing editor and company veteran Robert Love was shown the door by Wenner Media chairman Jann Wenner in late April.

Newsstand sales down
Though Rolling Stone's ad pages are up slightly, by 2.4%, through May after a couple of years of decline, Mr. Wenner, who is also the magazine's editor in chief, focused on the title's poor newsstand performance, which was off 10% for the last six months of 2001. (Its overall circulation was up 1% to 1.3 million.)

"It's 15 to 20 percent of the circulation, but it's nonetheless a real good barometer for what's going on," he said.

By comparison, Mr. Needham's FHM sold almost half of its year-end 2001 circulation of 844,127 on newsstands.

Shorter articles
Mr. Wenner has spoken of wanting to see shorter articles in Rolling Stone, but he softened that stance somewhat. "There's still a place for long-form journalism," he said, and touted an upcoming fiction project by Tom Wolfe that he described as being

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"something like Bonfire," referring to Mr. Wolfe's novel Bonfire of the Vanities, which was serialized in Rolling Stone. Mr. Wenner also touted an upcoming redesign courtesy of art director Andy Cowles.

For his part, though, Mr. Needham, who begins July 8, said that "certainly, something's to be said for what Jann has said about making [articles] shorter and snappier," although he, like Mr. Wenner, took pains to qualify such comments.

"I don't want people to think its impeccable reputation for journalism and long-form [articles] will be thrown out the window," he said.

Mr. Needham, who hails from the U.K., defined his two top tasks as "making sure [Rolling Stone] is punching its weight on the newsstand and get it talked about a little bit more."

More music news
Mr. Wenner also said the magazine would be adding "eight pages minimum" of music news to each issue, including both reviews and news.

The move to increase music coverage appears to be in response to Dennis Publishing's music-mag newcomer Blender. But when asked about it, Mr. Wenner chose to damn with faint praise.

"There's plenty of room for it," he shrugged. "It's cute."

A spokesman for Blender, in an e-mail, responded, "Oooooo, eight pages!"

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