Conde Nast closes beloved Gourmet magazine and three others

In case you needed convincing that things have changed for good in the glossy magazine business, the best proof yet arrived Monday morning, when Condé Nast Publications -- the home of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker -- said it was shutting down Gourmet, a widely respected magazine beloved by foodies for decades, and headed by one of the food world's genuine celebrities.

"[I]n this economic climate it is important to narrow our focus to titles with the greatest prospects for long-term growth," said Chuck Townsend, Condé Nast's CEO, in announcing the move. Three other magazines are also getting the chop: Cookie, a relatively new parenting magazine that never quite found an audience; Modern Bride, which Condé Nast spent $52 million to acquire in 2002; and Elegant Bride. Bride's, the company's flagship weddings title, will increase its publishing frequency to fill the void created by the closures.
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The shutterings are the outcome, or one of the outcomes, of a months-long review conducted by McKinsey & Co. McKinsey consultants spent the summer at Condé's headquarters at 4 Times Square, quizzing executives on their business practices and looking for ways to scale back the publisher's near-legendary internal culture of luxury and entitlement without affecting its magazines' ability to project that culture to readers and advertisers.

That some weaker titles would be euthanized comes as no surprise. Participants in the DailyFinance Media Brain Trust poll predicted back in August that Condé Nast would fold one of its two epicurean titles, which overlap in readership and advertising clients. (The other is Bon Appétit.) Even before McKinsey arrived on the scene, the company had already shut down two magazines: Portfolio, where I worked for two years, and Domino, a shelter magazines whose fiercely devoted following couldn't rescue it from the ad recession.

Gourmet is unlike most of the other victims in that it has been around for nearly 70 years. Its editor, Ruth Reichl, a former New York Times food critic, has written bestselling memoirs that HBO at one point looked to turn into a TV series. But while it may have more flash than its sister title, Gourmet has also been hit harder in the downturn: Its ad pages were down 46 percent in the first half of the year, versus a 35 percent fall for Bon Appétit. That's the kind of cold, hard fact you pay consultants to care about.

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