On the same day Hearst Magazines sent out ribbon-wrapped copies of the June issue of the revamped men's monthly, the company announced Mr. Kosner, 59, was leaving his post by "mutual consent."
No successor was immediately named, although Hearst Magazines President Cathleen Black installed newly appointed Editorial Director Randall Rothenberg as acting editor and said she hopes to name a successor soon.
The shakeup is the latest setback for the beleaguered magazine, which has seen declines in circulation and advertising but had touted the June issue as the beginning of a turnaround. The issue was the first produced in the wake of Mr. Rothenberg's appointment and the return of Art Director Robert Priest.
Executives close to the situation said that while Ms. Black wanted to replace Mr. Kosner, she wanted Mr. Rothenberg to get a tryout as the No. 2 editor for several months; he could then have taken over at yearend. But Mr. Kosner forced the timing of the move, they said, by asking Ms. Black for a public show of support.
A Hearst spokeswoman denied a plan had been in place to replace Mr. Kosner and said Mr. Rothenberg was promoted "because he was doing a good job."
Mr. Rothenberg, industry observers said, is confident he will get the nod. "He did not seem like the nervous, acting-editor type. He seemed rather sure of getting the job," said one industry observer, who spoke with Mr. Rothenberg a few days after Mr. Kosner's departure was announced.
'BALLS AND BRAINS'
One editor at a rival company observed Mr. Rothenberg has a strong background in editing and producing copy, but less visual and managerial experience, which may be why he was not immediately appointed.
"For that magazine, you can't have an editor without a visual sense. You need someone who can talk to the art director," the editor said.
Mr. Rothenberg, a former advertising columnist for The New York Times, forcefully denied that he doesn't have design credentials; he said he had even once delivered a keynote speech at a conference of graphic designers.
Mr. Rothenberg said he is already doing preliminary planning for Esquire issues through early next year. He also described his vision of the venerable monthly, saying it should be for men with "balls and brains."
ADVERTISERS MAY WAIT
With no announcement of a successor, advertisers are likely to take a wait-and-see attitude with Esquire. The magazine has undergone several transformations and has had four publishers in the last four years. Current Publisher Val-erie Salembier could not be reached for comment last week, and Ms. Black declined an interview pending appointment of a successor.
"The best permutation of that book was what Terry McDonell [now editor and publisher of Hearst's Sports Afield] did," said one New York-based media director. "But it was really a 400,000-circulation title at a 700,000 level, and there's just not a business in that."
Mr. Kosner, who had edited New York Magazine for 13 years, replaced Mr. McDonell at Esquire in October 1993. Reached last week, Mr. Kosner said only that he is "going to take my time and figure out" what to do next.
Ad pages for Esquire dipped 11% to 160.7 through April, compared to the same period in 1996, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Circulation dropped 6.3% to 651,451 in the second half of last year, according to Audit Bureau of