If Hachette assumes control, it plans to continue to publish the magazine under a revised -- and, in theory, more viable -- business model, said Jack Kliger, Hachette president-CEO. The magazine's frequency will be cut from monthly to 10 times a year, while subscription prices will be sliced in an effort to boost circulation above the critical 500,000 mark.
George was launched as a 50/50 joint venture between Hachette and the late John F. Kennedy Jr. The trustees of JFK Jr.'s estate have been in discussions with Hachette since Mr. Kennedy's death in late July.
Control of the brand name and the ability to make business decisions are critical factors if Hachette is to continue to publish the magazine, Mr. Kliger said.
"I would like for us to make an agreement that gives us full control over the magazine, so that it can continue and grow and become the important product we think it can be," he said.
"We will decide the future of the magazine as soon as we make an agreement with the family," he added. If the negotiations conclude as he expects them to, Hachette's plans include a "substantial investment" in the turnaround plan.
The plane crash that killed Mr. Kennedy, his wife and her sister in July resulted in a tremendous amount of worldwide media attention that also focused on the fate of George. Despite the tragedy, the media coverage opened a window of opportunity for circulation growth by raising consumer awareness of the magazine, Mr. Kliger said.
"Usually you start with a product and you build the brand. We have a brand name, and now we have to build the product," Mr. Kliger said of the struggling political lifestyle title.
Even before Mr. Kennedy's death, the long-term fate of George was in question. Founded in 1995, George generated a following, but didn't grow beyond a circulation of 400,000. Circulation for the last half of '98 declined 5% to 403,894, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Yet Hachette is hopeful it can stem the decline. The company is counting on strong newsstand sales of the October issue, a tribute to Mr. Kennedy, and will place 700,000 copies on newsstands. For the first half of this year, George sold an average of 90,058 copies at newsstands, according to the audit bureau.
Subscriber cards in September and October issues offer a reduced subscription price of $9.97, down from $17.76. Hachette hopes the price reduction will drive circulation to at least 500,000 within the next year to 18 months, a level it needs to be economically viable, Mr. Kliger said.
George Executive Editor Richard Blow is acting as editor in chief, and Tim O'Connor, associate publisher of Premiere, is acting as publisher for the remaining 1999 issues. Once an agreement with the Kennedy family is reached, Mr. Kliger said he will look to appoint a new editor and publisher. It is expected Mr. O'Connor will return to Premiere, and that Mr. Blow will be a candidate for the editor's slot.
"There are solid business reasons for continuing the magazine, and there are reasons beyond business to continue George," said Mr. Kliger. "But if the business reasons weren't there, we wouldn't be able to make it work. It may take a while to be able to show it was the smart thing to do, but we're not in this