Jack Kliger, Hachette's president-CEO, declined to offer any specifics beyond confirming the company was looking into launches that would fit with its women's lifestyle and male enthusiast titles, such as Woman's Day, Elle, and Car and Driver. Executives familiar with the matter, though, said two of the more promising options being considered are Red and an active-sports title for men.
If the projects get the go-ahead, full-fledged launches could come as early as next year.
The launches would represent a significant stepping up of activity at Hachette. Teen title Elle Girl debuted in 2001 and international versions quickly followed, but the company's been notably quieter than all other major magazine houses in terms of deals and launches in the past few years. The company was a bidder in Primedia's sale process for Seventeen earlier this year, but lost out to Hearst Magazines. This year it shuttered Travel Holiday, and in early '01 the company shut down George, its co-venture with John F. Kennedy Jr.
Red, which the company previously investigated developing for the U.S. market, is an oversized magazine that revolves around a younger and more affluent approach to the now-familiar women's service model. "There is nothing quite like it" in the American market, said an executive. Bringing Red to the U.S. would be in keeping with the company's stated preference for leveraging existing brands across its global portfolio.
The company has dedicated staff working on the development projects under Exec VP-Chief Operating Officer Philippe Guelton and Exec VP-Chief Financial Officer John O'Connor, Mr. Kliger said. Mr. Guelton, 36, who filled the company's empty chief operating officer spot this spring, is the heir apparent, according to executives inside and outside the company. Previously he won company kudos for his stewardship of Hachette's properties in Japan, and his French roots are, unsurprisingly, seen as a plus. "Philippe has the ear of France," said an executive familiar with the company.
Mr. Guelton did not return a call. The company's expected to present launch concepts to its Paris-based parent company late this year or in early 2004.
New launches would give the Hachette portfolio more heat, heft and cohesion. Its two million-plus-circulation automotive magazines, Car and Driver and Road & Track, give the company a solid base to develop ad packages aimed at men, but also leave a major portion of the company susceptible to the cyclical vagaries of the car business. Elle and Elle Girl are not the leading titles in their niches in America. And while Woman's Day-which with a 4.1 million circulation is by far the company's largest title-posted a 12.9% ad-page increase for the first nine months of the year, its single copy sales took a severe hit in the first half of '03, falling 20.6%.
Mr. Kliger said that the company could move more aggressively toward launches now because "we have no debt." Another executive confirmed that Hachette had recently paid off the remainder of the debtload the company's magazines had been carrying since the late '80s, when Peter Diamandis bought CBS's magazines for $650 million in 1987, thus forming one key portion of Hachette's future portfolio.