The Biz: Still not for sale, 'NY' gets facelift

By Published on .

As talk continues to swirl around the future of Primedia's New York magazine, the editors are putting the finishing touches on a redesign, which will hit newsstands June 23.

Readers will see, among other design tweaks, an expanded package for its consumer-oriented (read: shopping and services) offering under the name "Smart City," as well as the demise of the "Cue" name for its listings, which the magazine had carried since buying the rights to that magazine's name back in the early '80s. And advertisers will now be able to purchase real estate alongside consumer-friendly pages like its weekly shopping guide "Best Bets."

Yet no redesign can obscure that this has been a strange period for the title founded by new-journalism totem Clay Felker, and circumstances cast clouds over its 35th anniversary.

Its ad pages are down 11.3% through May. Publisher Alan Katz left in mid-May to helm the as-yet-untitled male version of Conde Nast Publications' Lucky; as of press time a replacement had yet to be named.

long-running dance

And the magazine itself has been part of a long-running internal dance at Primedia. Individuals involved in the matter say around 18 months ago Capstone Consulting-the in-house consultant for investment firm Kravis Kohlberg Roberts & Co., which owns a controlling stake in Primedia-suggested selling the title, a suggestion which then-Chairman-CEO Tom Rogers was able to override. (A high-ranking Primedia executive disputes any formal recommendation was made.)

Interestingly, Primedia's interim chairman, Dean B. Nelson, is CEO of Capstone. But some executives familiar with the deal markets say recent signals from Primedia suggest no sales of major consequence will occur for some months; others say Henry Kravis, KKR co-founder, is sufficiently intrigued by the property to want to hold onto it. (If he is, it's not for financial reasons, say executives familiar with the financials, who say a good year for New York equals profits around $2 million on revenue around $50 million.)

In Primedia's most recent investor call, Mr. Nelson said while "selective divestitures" were a way to reduce debt, there was "no imperative" to unload assets after the sale of Seventeen to Hearst Magazines for $182.4 million. A Primedia spokesman would not comment on the prospect of future sales or titles' finances and added "the breaking-up [of Primedia] stories are unfounded." A KKR spokeswoman declines to comment on potential transactions. She did, however, confirm that Capstone continues to review company operations.

Still, sale chatter is so prevalent even one key New York-er-media columnist Michael Wolff-is considering a run at the property. "If it ever does come on the market, might I be part of a group that would be interested in acquiring it? Yeah. Definitely," says Wolff, who nonetheless noted the absence of a sale process meant one could only have "the most theoretical" talks about it.

'intelligencer' expanded

But in the corner office overlooking Manhattan's East Side at New York headquarters, where Editor in Chief Caroline Miller and Design Director David Matt are momentarily oblivious to such hubbub, they discuss the title's sharper new look and fabled history.

Notable among the changes is how the entire front of the book now falls under the "Intelligencer" rubric, as do elements that ran as part of the "Gotham" subsection. The listing sections will be studded with quote boxes culled from reader comments at the title's Web site, newyorkmetro.com, under the headline "Everyone's A Critic." Polls from the Web site will be similarly sprinkled throughout.

In a nod to the service and local franchise that must underpin the broad-reach ambitions that are part of its DNA, the section most notably broadened is the "Smart City" guide to shops and services, which will feature new columns: "Shop Talk," on new stores or destinations and "Test Drives," which will compare services like florists or masseuses.

The redesign is "right for the readers, so we're gonna do it," Miller says. "There's been speculation forever about what the fate of the magazine is."

But it continues, even from within. "This magazine is where I live," Wolff says. "I continue to think New York magazine is a great business that can be an even greater business."

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