SOLID 'SMARTMONEY,' WARM 'HOUSE & GARDEN' WIN FANS

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A story of two magazines and the two men who launched one of them and then went their very different directions:

First, SmartMoney, the Hearst-Wall Street Journal hybrid, that has been in the black for more than half its six years of existence. And House & Garden, the shelter book Conde Nast put to sleep a few years back, then suddenly realized may have been a mistake.

Earlier this month I lunched in the Grill of the Four Seasons with the editor-publisher team that runs the revived House & Garden, Dominique Browning, who may have the most beautiful eyes in the biz, and David Carey, who, coincidentally, helped get SmartMoney not only launched but profitable.

Ms. Browning is a journalism pro with a resume that includes Esquire and Texas Monthly; she was editor of Mirabella under Rupert Murdoch and an assistant M.E. at Newsweek, perhaps at that time the highest-ranking woman on the edit staff.

Circulation, first. In January it was audited at 438,000 and in June at 550,000. Carey thinks it'll be at 750,000 within a couple of years, the growth rate so far is ahead of plan, "and circulation will soon top HG."

As for advertising, he says, "The most important point is how quickly we've recaptured nearly all of the old HG franchise. If you compare our numbers to the old magazine, we're carrying almost as many ad pages (720 in 1997 vs. 759 in 1993)." News to me, David said one reason for bringing back the title:z not enough old HG subscribers were willing to convert to Architectural Digest as part of the deal. "You were either HG or Architectural Digest; they weren't the same audience."

Editor Browning talks about the new art director, Diana LaGuardia, and the new "warm. . .welcoming" look of the magazine, beckoning the reader inside its covers, about design editor Suzy Slesin and new columnist Billy Norwich. The latest issue, September, is a single-themed book, "all about luxury," and contains one of the more delightful photos in recent memory, a two-page color shot by Pascal Chevallier, of Bill Blass, no longer in the first blush of youth, sitting up in a maple tree with a book in hand (Bill isn't actually reading the book; he's more or less hanging on for dear life!).

The photo is not only wonderfully, laughably surreal, it makes awfully good sense, in that Mr. Blass is the only fashion designer in history who gave 10 million bucks to anything or anyone, in his case, to the New York Public Library. If Dominique and her art director and staff can conjure up a little of this sort of magic every month, they may be on to something. Will James Truman and Steve Florio be patient? We shall see.

Meanwhile, SmartMoney. The book looks relatively fat & sassy with 150 total pages in August and 196 in September. The theme is straightforward in the coverlines: "Where to put your cash now," and "The best mutual funds." President-Editor in Chief Steve Swartz, with David Carey one of the two founders, and now president, CEO and editor in chief (Chris Lambiase, the original ad boss, is publisher), took me to lunch recently at San Domenico on Central Park South near their Columbus Circle office.

When SmartMoney was conceived, people shook their heads. What in the name of God did Hearst Magazines and the Journal have in common? The reply: talent and an idea. And let's give its godfathers a little credit, John Mack Carter for Hearst and Norm Pearlstine on the WSJ side. The magazine is now in its sixth year. In its third year on an operating basis, it went into the black. By last year, Swartz tells me, "we completely paid back the entire investment of the two companies." After just five years? Wow!

According to Steve, the circulation rate base is 650,000 and it's now selling about 685,000. There's no specific target circ; they're growing naturally without forcing it or giving the subs away, and somewhere between 750,000 and a million eventually, would sound right.

Chris Lambiase, tracking the ad side, tells me SmartMoney sold 1,085 ad pages last year and this time should ("comfortably," says Steve) top 1,100 pages (Chris' estimate, 1,120 pages). Where does that leave them vis-a-vis Time Inc.'s Money and Randy Jones's Worth? Last year, Chris says, Money did 1,303 ad pages with a 13th, "forecast" issue. SmartMoney, which runs 12 issues, "is running a very close second to Money and we'll both show modest gains this year." As for Worth, he says it did 740 ad pages in '96.

And did David Carey leave for Conde Nast on good terms with Steve Swartz? "Absolutely," says Steve, "we talk at least two or three times a week." Good. These are smart, hardworking, competent young people making magazines.

Not war.

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