'Premiere' death stands out in era of mag closings

Unlike many titles that have shuttered lately, this book had storied history

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When hachette filipacchi media U.S. pulled the plug on Premiere's print edition last week-promising, of course, to keep the brand alive digitally-it was the latest in a string of magazine shutdowns (see box).

What's different and striking about Premiere, though, is that unlike some of last year's batch, it has a notable history. It wasn't a copycat like Weekend; it wasn't a baby like Shock, killed off after just seven months. No, Premiere closed after 20 years, leaving behind sharp coverage and odd controversies that at various points made it a must-read in Hollywood, the opposite of a fanzine, or both.

In 1988, it was the venue where Sean Penn said, "I don't think there is a legitimate press left in America." Its readers found Guy Trebay describing Melanie Griffith's "worn" face and the "violet smudges beneath her eyes" that made her look "damaged." Kathleen Turner used its pages to announce her disdain for fans: "What do I owe these people? And why should I care what they think about me? They should be buying tickets to my movies, not judging my actions." When Premiere reported in 1991 that Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin were acting like spoiled children, the pair called the magazine "the National Enquirer."

Five years later, however, the title was still not that profitable, threatened by Entertainment Weekly and all kinds of proliferating pop-culture outlets and controlled by executives who believed its hardest-hitting reporting was its least valuable. Its two top editors quit in 1996 after David J. Pecker, then president-CEO of Hachette, spiked a column looking at Sylvester Stallone's business interests, including Planet Hollywood. A Premiere's co-owner at the time, Ronald O. Perelman, was also involved with Planet Hollywood.

"Mr. Perelman is not involved in the operations of this book and didn't order the piece killed," Mr. Pecker told The New York Times. "I didn't see the benefit of an investigative piece on Planet Hollywood for our readers. We have found in our research that investigative pieces score the lowest."

As soft-focus coverage continued to rise and the ad market got tougher, Premiere's circulation fell from an average of 616,089 in 1995 to 492,498 in the second half of last year, according to Harrington Associates and the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Worse, Premiere sold 24.7% fewer ad pages in 2006 than in 2005, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

Hachette President-CEO Jack Kliger blamed the shutdown on changes in consumer behavior and the marketplace. He said he didn't hold anything against Paul J. Turcotte, VP-publisher of the Hachette Entertainment Group; Mr. Turcotte was promoted to senior VP-corporate sales and marketing last week.
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