Spent Last 30 Years as Editor, Will Continue to Write Column

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Lewis H. Lapham is stepping down as editor of Harper’s Magazine after nearly 30 years in the post.

Mr. Lapham, who will retire this spring, will continue to write his front-of-book column as editor emeritus. No successor has been named.

Lewis H. Lapham
While the age of celebrity editors in the mold of Helen Gurley Brown and Tina Brown has largely faded from the scene, Mr. Lapham, 70, remains a high-profile figure and an anchor at the magazine he edits.

“This is a sad day,” said John R. MacArthur, president-publisher, Harper’s Magazine, in a statement. “I consider myself fortunate to have had 22 years of fruitful collaboration with Lewis and I am grateful that he is going to continue to write for the magazine.”

Rescued magazine
Mr. MacArthur rescued the magazine from near-death in the early 1980s with an influx of money from his family foundation and a demand that Mr. Lapham, who had been forced out, return at the helm.

“You’re going to see continuity above anything else. Lewis is the radical reformer and reinventer of Harper’s,” Mr. MacArthur said. “The format that you’re looking at was invented with the March 1984 issue. That’s when he started the Index, now world famous, the annotations and the new design ... All we’ve done in the last 21 years is refine it, although if you look at the current issue it’s got much better art direction and photography, which we didn’t use to have. That’s all Lewis’s innovation and I don’t think the new editor will want to mess with the format.”

But Mr. Lapham’s departure does open up the door for potential changes at Harper’s, a monthly journal of literature, politics and culture that has been a staple among intelligensia for much of its 155 years.

Well-educated audience
Significant departures seem unlikely, given its long heritage and particular position in the magazine business. But its well-educated audience has not attracted major ad campaigns from the country's biggest marketers. Recent issues included ads from The University of Chicago Press, Long Island Univeristy's Southampton College and Daedalus Books, although big names like Microsoft and Philip Morris have also used its pages from time to time.

The magazine reported average paid circulation of 227,583 during the first six months of the year, down from 230,159 during the first half of 2004, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. It promises advertisers an average paid circulation of 210,000.

Mr. MacArthur is trying to improve circulation, which has indeed shown a jump in newsstand this year despite a higher cover price (it now costs $6.95), by pursuing more pockets for the magazine at retail outlets. “There’s been no price resistence up to $6.95. In fact there’s been tremendous increase in sales,” he said. “If you’re willing to pay $10.50 for a lousy movie chances are you’ll pay $6.95 for a good magazine.”

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