Mr. Donaton, previously the editor-turned-publisher of Advertising Age, became EW's fifth publisher in five years when he accepted the vacant job post 17 months ago. He and Rick Tetzeli, then the managing editor, set about a redesign and re-articulation of the mission designed, among other things, to set EW apart from celebrity magazines. He also oversaw an overhaul of EW's website, boosting the number of blogs, videos and the range of community tools. In January, EW named Jess Cagle to succeed Mr. Tetzeli as managing editor.
But, unsurprisingly given a recession that has caused dramatic drop in many consumer magazines' ad revenue, ad-page declines continued after the redesign. EW's first-quarter ad pages this year came in 38% below their mark in the first quarter last year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. They fell 20% in 2008, Mr. Donaton's first year on the job, after falling 13% in 2007 and 8% in 2006. Paid and verified circulation in the second half of 2008 averaged 1.7 million copies, 1% lower than a year earlier, as paid subscriptions dipped almost 3%, EW reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Signs of growth
There were some signs of progress under Mr. Donaton and Mr. Cagle: Newsstand sales increased almost 7% to 50,437, on the back of the redesign and editorial retooling. And traffic to EW.com appears to have been increasing too, with Alexa recording a 45% increase in visitors in the past three months.
Significantly for Mr. Donaton, however, Time Inc. restructured late last October into three groups, each overseen by a single executive. The restructuring effectively shifted some of the onus for strategic direction from the individual publishers to the corporate executives, VP Paul Caine in the case of Entertainment Weekly's group. Given that Mr. Donaton was originally brought in to plot an alternate business strategy for EW rather than act as a traditional ad director, the new structure seemed to observers to raise question marks about the viability of his role in the long term.
EW staying in print
Again denying occasional rumors that EW would leave print, Time Inc. said the magazine will continue unaffected. "There are no plans to have its status change," a spokeswoman said. "It's going to continue as a stand-alone weekly publication with a vibrant website."
An e-mailed memo from Mr. Caine to the EW staff read: "I regret to announce that Scott Donaton is leaving his position as publisher of Entertainment Weekly. Continuing the work he began when he founded 'Madison and Vine,' Scott is starting a consulting firm that works with brands on the convergence of entertainment and marketing.
"For the past 18 months, he's done a tremendous job building the brand strategy and elevating EW's visibility. During his tenure, Entertainment Weekly was honored with a top spot on Adweek's 'Top 10 Magazine Brand Leaders' list and was named one of Min's most engaged media brands.
"His last day in the office will be May 8, and we will be announcing a replacement shortly. Please join me in thanking Scott for his great work here at EW, and in wishing him success in his new ventures."
Mr. Donaton was unavailable for comment.