American Pie 20.02.03

The “three martini lunch” is long gone. But even the two-beer lunch is now in danger as US publishing companies tighten up on entertainment expenses. The business lunch still exists, but restaurants – especially those frequented by top editors and writers – are feeling the draught. One in-spot reports it has not seen such a decline in lunch reservations since the 1987 stock market crash. Rolling Stone publisher Rob Gregory admits that in flusher times he had a lunch appointment five times a week and spent as much as $200 (£125) a time. Now it’s no more than three times a week and he keeps the bill under $100. Tim Zagart, publisher of a New York restaurant guide, says some places have even resorted to offering some of their former good customers, especially journalists and editors, a discount – without revealing their generosity to the guests.

The New York Times, after three years of behind-doors discussions, has issued a new Code of Conduct for its editorial staff. It runs to 52 pages and lists many things that reporters, editors and columnists may or may not do, organisations they should not join, even companies in which they should not invest. There is also a section devoted to “news sources, romantic involvement in”. Sports staff are prohibited from gambling – except for what’s described as the occasional recreational wager on horse or dog racing. But even that’s forbidden for writers who cover either sport regularly. As for politics, New York Times staffers may not hold public office, wear campaign buttons or attend rallies.

Book publishers seem to be taking a tip from Hollywood companies that write their own film reviews (Press Gazette, 24 January). I received a new book from one publisher this week with a note attached which reads: “Note to editor/reviewer. The following sample review has been prepared for your convenience. In the event you are unable to provide your own review, please feel free to edit or publish it.”

After only four months, new celebrity fan-mag In Touch has almost doubled its sales to more than 350,000 – still a lot less than its big rivals People and US. But it’s rising fast and at $1.99, it’s about half the price of its rivals. Unlike People and US, the new weekly, published by Bauer, is blatantly a fan-mag, filled with photos and short pieces that stay well away from anything scandalous. “It’s popcorn for those who love celebrities and gossip,” says Lindy Hess, who teaches publishing at Columbia School of Journalism. The criticism doesn’t faze editor Richard Spencer, who says: “We’re the first magazine brave enough to say that people don’t read magazines any more. They look at them.”

Not since Helen Gurley Brown was editor has Cosmopolitan done so well. Last year its news-stand sales climbed more than 5 per cent to more than two million, while its total circulation was up almost 10 per cent to 3.2 million. But others are also enjoying a turnaround. Esquire’s sales are up more than 12 per cent, to 740,000. GQ is up 6 per cent to 800,000. Even Glenda Bailey’s Harper’s Bazaar upped its news-stand sales by 13 per cent. Only the news weeklies, after the big jump in sales following the first terrorist attacks, are in a decline. Time’s news-stand sales at the end of last year were down 32 per cent. Newsweek had dropped almost 36 per cent, while US News & World Report fell 28 per cent.

Jeffrey Blyth

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