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TINA BROWN'S 'TALK' SHUTS DOWN

Losses Estimated at $50 Million

By Published on . 0

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If you need further confirmation that the nineties are over, look no further. The tumultuous run of Talk Magazine -- the glitzy co-venture between Hearst Magazines and Miramax Films -- came to an abrupt end today.

Staffers were told the 28-month-old venture was done at a meeting this afternoon with Talk Media Chairman Tina Brown and President Ron Galotti.

A Talk staffer said, unsurprisingly, the tone of the meeting was sad if not shocked, and that Mr. Galotti and Ms. Brown were tearful while delivering the news.

"She really was crying," the staffer said. "She's not the ice queen."

Talk Miramax Books, of which Ms. Brown is chairman, is not affected by the shutdown.

Signs of strain
Late last year,

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Mr. Galotti told staffers he was searching for additional investors in the venture. But as far back as June, strains could be detected in the public comments of its partners. Back then, Cathleen Black, president of Hearst Magazines, told Advertising Age that Ms. Brown "has got the right kind of reader. She just needs to find more of them."

And Harvey Weinstein, co-chair of Miramax films, said, "I am always interested in a partner who can bring power to the company. Not money, but someone who can take us from 600,000 [circulation] to 1 million."

Around that time, Advertising Age had learned that two top-level publishing executives were considering investing in Talk. (Both passed on it.)

Estimates: $50 million in losses
The most reliable and knowledgeable estimates on the ventures' total losses hover around $50 million.

A Miramax spokeswoman read a release over the phone to AdAge.com that began: "Talk Media has suspended publication of Talk Magazine, effective with its February issue currently on newsstands, it was announced today by Talk Chairman Tina Brown and President Ron Galotti." A Hearst spokesman directed all inquiries to the release.

Talk -- improbably conjoining glitz and street-smart aggression; legendarily blunt executives such as Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Galotti with Ms. Brown's cool Anglic intellectual glamour; and Miramax with the risk-averse family-owned Hearst Corporation -- launched on unsteady legs following a legendary opening bash on New York's Liberty Island.

Pictures from the party ran on the magazine's curiously thin paper stock of its early issues -- which now are noticeably yellowed -- showing Kate Moss consorting with Henry Kissinger, and Sarah Jessica Parker yukking it up with George Plimpton and then-U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Advertiser interest waned
But following strong ad response to its first four issues -- which were sold as a package -- advertiser interest waned. Talk ended 2001 with 656.8 ad pages, up slightly from 2000 but simply not enough to support an editorial operation as lavish as Ms. Brown's.

Circulation for the first half of the year was 650,660, up 22.5% but with a sharp newsstand drop of 27.9%. (Newsstand sales for 2000 did not even make it halfway to Mr. Galotti's stated goal of 247,000.)

The title's travails prompted serious schadenfreude in Manhattan's posh media circles. In early January Mr. Galotti was spotted lunching at a prominent table at Manhattan media bistro Michael's, prompting one sharp-tongued observer to comment, "There's the most desperate man in publishing."

At a party held for incoming Harper's Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey Jan. 14, the first question on media-savvy partygoer's lips was "How long do you give Talk?"

Yet even wiseacres prone to cutting comments conceded that in recent months Talk had substantially righted its editorial product, thanks in no small part to new editorial director Maer Roshan, then 33, who was plucked from New York Magazine last year.

But the stream of buzz-worthy features that made their way into New York's tabloids well in advance of their publication in the magazine was not enough.

"The problem with a magazine like this," an industry executive told Advertising Age last summer, "is that they're in the magic area around half a million [in circulation] at which no one can make money. Especially if you are doing a Tina Brown magazine -- if you have high expenses."

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