To its groaning shelf of National Magazine Awards and bulging portfolio of stories extolling its business success, New York magazine can add one more credit: It's having its best year in a decade.
Both profits and revenue are the highest they've been since financier Bruce Wasserstein bought the barely profitable publication in late 2003 for $55 million and lured Adam Moss from The New York Times to become editor-in-chief. That move was among several that would make New York what it is now: a growth property at a time when much of the rest of the industry is struggling to hold its ground.
Observers also praise New York's owners for their willingness to invest for the long term and a nimble business team that 's equally adept at selling print and digital advertising.
In addition, the magazine and website have racked up more National Magazine Awards since Mr. Moss' 2004 arrival than any other title during the same period.
The finishing touch has been an opportunistic approach to publishing, whether it's in print or online.
"We saw that we weren't just publishing a magazine, that we had a certain voice and way of looking at the world that could find expression in different products," Mr. Moss said. "Some would be distributed in print form and some digitally."
The editor-in-chief has gotten plenty of support from an A-list staff, including online Editorial Director Ben Williams, but veterans of the magazine cite Mr. Moss' vision as key to the company's success.
"He's got a really good balance between his own intense curiosities and a feel for what can resonate with a larger audience," said New York Times Magazine Editor-in-Chief Hugo Lindgren, who was Mr. Moss' longtime deputy at both the Times Magazine and New York.
Solving the mystery
Just as important, the company has solved the most pressing conundrum: how to make money online. Consumer magazines draw only about 5% to 15% of their ad sales from their digital operations, analysts and insiders say. New York's digital properties, by contrast, account for 40% of the company's total ad sales.
Driven by online advertising, revenue for the entire operation was up 6% for the first half of 2012 compared with a year earlier, according to Anup Bagaria, CEO of parent company New York Media. That followed an 11% jump for the full year of 2011. Citing the private nature of the company, Mr. Bagaria declined to provide dollar figures or to share percentage-growth figures for profits.
New York Media is owned by a family trust and has been overseen by Wasserstein family members since the financier's death in 2009. Like Mr. Wasserstein, they've plowed profits back into the operation and continued to invest, Mr. Bagaria said. In May, the magazine spun off twice-yearly publication New York Design Hunting, which joins the company's other biannual, New York Weddings. And last month, New York relaunched fashion blog The Cut as a site devoted to women; it joins culture site Vulture and foodie favorite Grub Street .
Unlike its competitors, the publication was quick to embrace the web as a potential profit center. NYMag.com started in 2001 as NYMetro.com -- a joint venture of prior owner Primedia, which wanted it for the magazine's listings, and Cablevision, which promoted programming on its Metro TV channels, including the hit show "Full Frontal Fashion."
The show's runway coverage attracted luxury advertisers, proving there was money to be made online. And once Mr. Wasserstein bought the site in 2004, the team added features like Grub Street that would prove popular with other advertisers as dollars shifted to digital.
This past August, New York Media sites drew 4.8 million unique visitors, according to ComScore, providing the scale that large marketers require. And with nearly 80% of its online audience coming from outside New York, the publication gives star political writers Frank Rich and John Heilemann a national platform.
The websites' national profile has also raised awareness among advertisers of what is still in some ways a regional magazine, with a weekly circulation of 400,000 copies. "The brand has a bigger footprint in this changed world than some of the big powerhouse magazines out there," said Publisher Larry Burstein, who has been at New York since 2003. "That's broadened the scope and the reach of the magazine."
But New York is still vulnerable to the forces, including the tepid economy, that are wreaking havoc across print media. In line with the industry, single-copy newsstand sales fell 10% in the first half of the year compared with the year-earlier period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Paid circulation also fell, by 2%. And New York's ad pages were down 6% this year through Sept. 17, according to Media Industry Newsletter. New York executives point out, however, that although circulation has been stagnant for years, circulation revenue has actually grown as a result of subscription prices having almost doubled since 2005. And they say that print ad revenue is up over last year, thanks to higher page rates.
More important, ad revenue at NYMag.com is on track to grow 26% this year, following 20% growth in 2011. And The Cut, just a month old, is a hit with marketers.
"You see advertisers like Bergdorf Goodman and Longchamp," said Jack Bamberger, president of North America for digital at media-buying agency MEC, which is using The Cut for Macy's . "We like being within that company."
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Matthew Flamm is a reporter for Crain's New York Business.