Parting Thoughts on Celebrity Weeklies' Future From ‘Dr. Evil’

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NEW YORK ( -- Kent Brownridge, 65, will walk out of Wenner Media’s front door for the last time this January, 31 years after joining what was once called Straight Arrow Publishers and 23 years after becoming general manager.

Kent Brownridge
Mr. Brownridge earned a reputation for speaking his mind to the point of being impolitic. Simon Dumenco, AdAge’s “Media Guy” columnist, affectionately nicknamed him “Dr. Evil” earlier this year. This summer, Mr. Brownridge joked he probably had three friends left in the entire industry -- if that. But last week he had already received three offers to serve as a strategic adviser to other magazines. “I have a few more friends than I thought, it turns out,” he said. MediaWorks decided to ask what he would tell those friends.

MediaWorks: What are the biggest shifts in magazine publishing that you saw in the last 31 years?

Kent Brownridge: I can think of four big shifts.

1. There used to be a sacred concept known as “church and state.” Today it exists less. I don’t think this is bad. In many respects, church and state was a cumbersome concept. This is not to say that we should ever compromise our editorial integrity, but editors and businesspeople need to talk early, often and comprehensively.

2. The second big change is the collapse of the venerable rate card. When I started there were actually cards. They would fit in a No. 5 envelope, about 3 by 8 inches. I don’t think anyone even prints them any more. Rate administration is now a much more complicated science. Rates are pretty much pegged by advertisers to the last year’s rate.

3. People don’t stay in their jobs as long as they used to. Among the younger people, there’s this feeling that they have to change jobs to move up. There are people in the industry now who are thought to be senior salespeople who have done it for a total of three years.

4. Circulation strategies are totally different than they were when I came into the business, starting with the fact that most publishers today do not use direct mail to build or develop circulation. That sort of went the way of the horse buggy for a number of reasons that are pretty obvious, one of which is that the cost became prohibitively high with postal rates and printing and a bunch of things. On top of that we had the collapse of the old stamp sheets, which were very good sources of circulation.

MediaWorks: With all that’s gone on, are the magazine industry’s circulation practices now clean?

Kent Brownridge: I hope so. I can tell you for sure three places that they are clean -- Us Weekly, Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal [all are Wenner titles]. I can guess at some other places where they’re clean, like Time Warner, Conde Nast, Hearst and other big publishers.

Hopefully the new ABC [Audit Bureau of Circulations] rules have closed an airtight door on all of those wild and wooly practices like negative remits. But the history of infectious diseases is that just when you think you’ve wiped one out it springs up somewhere else.

MediaWorks: Forecast the next few years in celebrity weeklies for us. Will there be more launches, more dropouts like Inside TV, or even any fame fatigue among readers?

Kent Brownridge: There will not be many more launches, if any. It’s an overcrowded field right now, and everyone that’s in the arena or watching the arena can see and appreciate this fact. I don’t think there are too many people who are hankering to jump in right now. Also the magazine business right now is not in a jump-in frame of mind. As for shakeout, there may be another one or maybe two, but I don’t know who. Maybe it will go down from eight to six, which might change my first prediction about launches. I think it will settle out around seven or eight.

MediaWorks: Music labels know the next morning how many CDs sold the day before. When will the magazine business be able to do the same?

Kent Brownridge: I think relatively soon. I’ve seen a proposal now from Rebecca McPheters of McPheters & Co., and her idea, while it’s not exactly that, embodies some of this concept. This is an encouraging development. It’s going to take a while to get in place and get advertising agencies to see it and understand it and use it. But once that happens, everything will fall in place rather quickly.

MediaWorks: You have a horse farm in Virginia. Will you now retreat quietly to the country?

Kent Brownridge: It’s way too boring. I love horses but I couldn’t get up every morning and look at birds. I’m not going away. I’ll be around.

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