'Star' Mag's Joe Dolce: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Contract Up in March, but Unclear Whether It Will Be Renewed

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Joe Dolce's contract as editor in chief of Star magazine ends March 31, but after Star's frustrating past year, it's become increasingly unclear whether his boss, American Media Chairman-CEO David J. Pecker -- or even Mr. Dolce himself -- wants to strike a new deal.
Joe Dolce: Will he be the fall guy for a newsstand sales slide?
Joe Dolce: Will he be the fall guy for a newsstand sales slide?

Taking the old newsprint tabloid Star to a glossy celebrity-weekly format was a key part of Mr. Pecker's plan to take American Media public. But setbacks on many fronts, from the short-lived start-up Celebrity Living to repeated delays in restating previous financial results, have buried any dream of an IPO.

Those unfinished restatements have also stalled Mr. Pecker's effort to raise money by selling five of the company's other magazines. There have been tribulations enough, in fact, that rumors suggest the company might move Star's offices from New York to Boca Raton, Fla., the more affordable official headquarters of American Media.

Newsstand sales slide
All that squeezed the resources available to Star even as the celebrity-weekly space became more competitive than ever. The subsequent slide in newsstand sales, which many advertisers view as an indicator of a magazine's vitality, left Mr. Pecker with only two people to blame: Bonnie Fuller, the star editor who signed a new contract last summer to stay on as exec VP-chief editorial director, and Mr. Dolce, editor in chief since December 2003.

Recent months have been particularly alarming. From 1995 through 2002, Star moved an average of more than 1 million newsstand copies each week, according to a Harrington Associates analysis of figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. In the second half of 2006, however, newsstand sales averaged 746,903, with five issues under 700,000 and two issues even under 600,000, according to company reports to the Audit Bureau.

Star did better on the advertising front last year, expanding its ad pages by 4.6% to total 1,010, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

'Nothing's been decided'
So will either Mr. Pecker or Mr. Dolce -- who once quit as editor in chief at Details when he learned his superiors were shopping for a replacement -- want more of the same? "We're talking," Mr. Dolce said. "Nothing's been decided."

He declined to elaborate on his potential future, but added a defense of Star's recent performance. "Sales have been on the upswing," he said.

Richard Valvo, a spokesman for American Media, said company policy prohibited discussing any negotiations but also defended the company's marquee title. "The whole celebrity category is down 10% in the fourth quarter," he said. "The last three issues, we've gone up tremendously. Bonnie broke the Justin-Cameron Diaz story, and that issue went through the roof."
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