(finally!) of yet another celebrity-soaked glossy.
Say what you want about the dot-com craze, I can't yet imagine the likes of Madonna, Paul Newman, Dan Rather, Tommy Hilfiger, Ed Koch, Barry Diller, Howard Stringer, Al Sharpton and Robert De Niro showing up to celebrate the birth of a new Web site.
Credit for drawing such an eclectic cast of characters goes in no small part to Miramax's half-ownership of Talk, and to the Brown buzz factor. But give the medium its due as well; for all the talk of their demise, magazines can still conjure up magic. One glimpse of the splendidly elegant George Plimpton was all the reminder any partygoer needed of the power, the beauty, of the written word.
Yet even as the magazine world basks once more in the spotlight, you can't help but catch a faint whiff of-can it be?-flop sweat. There's an undercurrent of fear in the business. Fear of obsolescence. Fear of the unknown. And it's growing a bit tiresome.
Look, let's get one thing straight: Magazines aren't going anywhere. This is not the delusional viewpoint of a magazine junkie, but a slam-dunk prediction. Fifty years from now, some commuters on the evening train will spend the ride reading e-mail, surfing the Web and annoying everyone around them by blathering into their cell phones. Many more will reach down into their briefcases, pull out a magazine and disappear into its pages.
That's not to say magazines don't need to determine how to adapt to the new media landscape. Like the keepers of any brands that hope to remain relevant in the next century, publishers have to be, to quote New York Times chief Arthur Sulzberger Jr., "agnostic about the methods of distribution."
Publishers also need to attack the industry's short-term problems decisively, particularly the impact the sweepstakes woes will have on circulation over the next five years. Despite the many thousands of words that have been written on this subject already, I don't think anyone has yet captured just what a mess it's going to be.
Starting next year, scores of magazines will be forced to reduce rate bases or falsely-and unprofitably-prop them up. If circulation revenues slow to a trickle during boom times, the flow of ad dollars keeps it covered. But throw in an economic downturn, and the picture gets quite bleak (remember Family Media?).
Then there's Ford. It was actually the Ford Motor Co. move that drove home the degree to which magazines are running scared these days. The news that the nation's fifth-largest advertiser is axing several major publishing houses from its list of media buys is certainly worrisome. Despite Ford's protestations, it's clear at least some of that money will be diverted to the Internet.
I got several calls the week of the Ford shift from publishing executives, most of the sky-is-falling variety. Publishers griped about their losses and the baffling ability of TV networks to continue to rake in dough despite severe audience erosion. Magazines are concerned, and rightly so, that as each of the top 50 advertisers begins to spend real money on the Internet, print will suffer.
The problem is, too many publishers are resigned to this scenario. It's time to end the hand-wringing. Magazines remain vibrant and vital, but they need cheerleaders to stand up confidently for the power and creativity, the efficiency and effectiveness of the medium. Those that show fear deserve to be devoured.
The critics can grouse about Tina Brown being all Talk and no profits. But her enthusiasm and passion for print were clearly evident on Liberty Island. And