Realities sink 'Mademoiselle'

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Conde nast publications' decision to shutter Mademoiselle is sad-in the way it's sad when any magazine goes out of business. That's to say, it's sad because Mademoiselle employed nearly 100 people, who will now be out of work in a tough economy, or at best in a new assignment at a different magazine. But Conde Nast's decision was also smart business, a necessary pruning of its portfolio in one of the toughest business climates the American magazine industry has ever confronted.

The conventional wisdom on Conde Nast is that bottom-line concerns are an afterthought to Chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr., who owns and runs the closely held publishing company. It's true Mr. Newhouse has divorced financial considerations from some of his calculations, most notably in the case of The New Yorker, perhaps the best magazine being published today despite a chronic inability to make a dime. Mr. Newhouse and Steven T. Florio, the president-CEO of Conde Nast, deserve praise for standing by that magazine. It's vanity publishing at its best-almost a public service.

But Conde Nast is still a business and has to operate like one, even when that means making the tough decision to discontinue a decades-old brand. This was not a conclusion reached lightly; there were rumors for months about Mademoiselle's possible demise, no doubt fueled by actual discussions inside the company about whether the brand could be salvaged. But, in the end, pulling the plug made sense because: a) the magazine had no unique selling proposition and was too similar to other Conde Nast titles, particularly Glamour; b) the ad market is weak and the forecast for 2002 grim; and c) its expenses were no longer in line with revenues. Say what you will about The New Yorker's financials, that weekly is overflowing with USP. The Mademoiselle closing also allows Conde Nast to put resources behind young products with a potentially bright future, such as Lucky.

Sure, Conde Nast, like other privately held publishing concerns, is immune from the sometimes irrational investor demands that publicly held rivals have to grapple with. But it is a business, and shutting down Mademoiselle-while no doubt painful-was good business.

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