Berner, you'll recall, announced her intention a few weeks ago to clear out of glossy-magazine giant Condé Nast by the 31st. She was the charismatic, brilliantly effective president-CEO of Fairchild, publisher of titles such as Women's Wear Daily, W, Jane, Cookie and Details. Condé Nast's parent, Advance Magazine Group, bought Fairchild in the '90s, but just recently formally absorbed it, which meant Berner no longer got to run her own shop -- thus her resignation.
Berner famously ran a tight ship. While peers at Condé got to glide around Manhattan in pricey Town Cars to go to fancy lunches, Fairchild employees enjoyed no such perks. The cool thing is that Berner herself submitted to the culture of cost-control, often taking cabs, subways and -- gasp! -- sometimes even walking to nearby outside meetings.
Now everyone's wondering how soon will the editors in chief of the former Fairchild titles get dedicated cars and drivers, too? (Full disclosure: I'm a contributing editor at Details, and I've written and consulted for various Condé Nast titles.)
Me, I'm more curious about when car service ends for Condé -- all of Condé -- and at every magazine company, because profit margins will simply no longer allow it.
Of course, at the moment, it's possible to maintain some optimism about glossies -- as opposed to newspapers -- because many remain powerful beacons of wealth and cultural power. And they have their very objectness -- everyone loves pretty pictures on shiny paper -- going for them, whereas inky, unwieldy newspapers are graceless relics.
Advertisers and readers will always support glossies, right? No, they won't. We're not yet seeing vast revenue declines at top-shelf magazines like we are at newspapers simply because the flush high-end glossies still have a lock on ad dollars from the curiously old-fashioned fashion world -- the bedrock endemic advertising category for Condé titles. Other than word-of-mouth marketing (runway shows, outfitting celebrities, etc.), fashion advertisers have traditionally been good at only one kind of brand building: producing glossy print ads.
They have no choice but to advertise in certain glossies, because sexy, brand-mythologizing magazine ads are their brand lingua franca. The brands are the print ads, and vice versa.
But inevitably, fashion advertisers that prop up the glossies will, like everyone else, increasingly migrate to Web and mobile interactive advertising. And here's why: Google's emphasis on text-only ads notwithstanding, we're all increasingly seeing incredibly cool, sophisticated, Flash-animated and even streaming ads that actually don't crash our Web browsers. (What used to not usually work ... now usually works.) Suddenly it's entirely conceivable that say, Diesel could find the right combination of interactive advertising -- animated Web spots, sponsored mobisodes, etc. -- that would not only give it the same aura of cool it used to get from its perversely witty glossy ads, but would be more cost-effective and truly measurable in a way that print will never be. (Diesel has already created one static ad that appears only online, at ZooZoom.com.)
Meanwhile, the runaway success of shopping mags like Lucky and InStyle has set the entire industry up for a fall by converting the formerly immersive magazine-reading experience into a distracted browse that's just begging for transactionality.
Every month, Lucky includes a page of peel-and-stick tabs that readers can use to earmark products -- the retarded, slow-motion print version of a click on a Web page. Now imagine a next-generation video iPod with a generous touch screen and a persistent high-speed wireless Web connection. A consumer seeing a great bit of seamless marketing embedded within cool, custom-tailored iPod programming won't have to fuss with some half-assed Post-it Note to buy right now.
Everybody in media thinks mobile video poses the gravest threat to broadcast and cable, but magazines have even more to lose. After all, it's the magazine industry that's transformed itself into a business that's entirely dependent on revenue from product-obsessed titles, training consumers not to read, but to shop.
When fashion marketers figure out interactivity -- well, magazine world, say goodbye to your Town Cars!
The Media Guy's column appears weekly on AdAge.com and in the print edition of Advertising Age. E-mail him at email@example.com