Magazine execs pan the dot-com gold rush

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In the second half of 1999, Beth Thorbahn Reeves, senior VP for executive search firm Howard Sloan Koller Group, fielded 20 calls each day from magazine executives wanting to go dot-com. "As long as it had a `com' on the end," she recalled, chuckling, executives' attitudes were, "I don't care; I'm going."

These days, there are no calls like that. Instead, there are 10 each day from ex-magazine executives wanting to return to the fold.

"I call it the recycling effect," said Jack Kliger, CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, adding the recent gold rush marked "the first time magazine people had an easy entry into electronic media."

But the bloom fades quickly when an Internet CEO casually asks, "Why do we need impressions to sell advertising?" Upon which, one executive who returned to print recalled, "I was like, `Oh my God, he does not get it.' "

"The magazine business is much more creative" in terms of selling ad packages, said Ken Wallace, who came to Gruner & Jahr last month as senior VP-corporate sales and marketing after a 15-month stint as senior VP at egreetings. Mr. Wallace said publishing companies have ad package options that standalone Web sites don't.

And there's power in known names, which was "probably the single biggest thing" that drew Paul Turcotte to his new perch as publisher of Men's Health. "Whether you're Men's Health or NBC, you're in a better position if you have the brand to drive your Web site," he said. Mr. Turcotte spent five months at entertainment site megachannels.com after he left Yahoo! Internet Life in March.

But publishing executives shouldn't be smug that defections have stopped. "There will be another wave," Ms. Reeves said, "when broadband and convergence can actually happen."

This year's most prominent returning dot-commer was snagged by Newsweek, which named Greg Osberg senior VP-worldwide publisher in September. Mr. Osberg left Newsweek in October 1997 for an executive post at CNET, then moved to Kaplan and its brassring.com unit.

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