American Pie 20.06.02

Predictions that the British influence on US journalism, notably magazines, is on the decline appear to be premature. A forecast that the British sun is setting was made by Keith Kelly, who writes on the media for the NY Post. He noted the departure from the scene, at least for the moment, of Tina Brown; Mandi Norwood’s sudden departure from Mademoiselle and the folding of the magazine; and then the return to Britain of Mike Soutar, editor here of Maxim, who said he missed his favourite sport, football. The ink on the piece was barely dry when news broke that Ed Needham, the 37-year-old Cambridge-born editor of the US version of FHM, had been appointed the new chief of Rolling Stone. Founded in 1967, Rolling Stone has been losing circulation – and money – because of increasing competition from such publications as Entertainment Weekly, Blender and even FHM. Owner Jan Wenner feels that Rolling Stone needs to rock to a new beat. That means abandoning the lengthy features for which Rolling Stone was once famous. Kelly predicts that Needham will make the magazine punchier and newsier – and almost certain to replace musicians on the cover with lots of scantily-clad sexy stars.  

Although more Americans are watching the nightly TV news, especially since the  September 11 terrorist attacks, the number who read newspapers is declining. A new survey shows that the number who read a newspaper was down from 47 per cent two years ago to 41 per cent today. In 1994 the figure was 60 per cent. Of those who do read newspapers, only a quarter are under 30 years old.

Magazine editors love numbers, especially on their covers. From 50 Ways to Lure a Man in such magazines as Cosmo and Redbook to 100 New Pasta Recipes in Family Circle or Gourmet . But Glenda Bailey, who a year ago took over the  fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, goes for such  offbeat numbers as 619 Best Beauty Buys (on her April cover); 573 Fashion Pieces (May); or on her June cover 759 New Looks. And she insists  that she is seriously trying to suggest the magazine has lots of new ideas. Of course the numbers she really wants to see are the sales and ad numbers. Since the death from ovarian cancer of its most famous editor, Liz Tilberis, in 1999 the 135-year-old magazine’s circulation has declined. So have its ads. This year already they are down 25 per cent. But Glenda believes she can turn the magazine around. "It had lost its way" she declares. Her contemporaries agree. "She’s digging out from a very deep hole" said one. "If anyone, she can do it."  

There is a newspaper price war afoot here too. In a bid to boost readership, Knight Ridder, the country’s second largest newspaper chain, has cut the price of its four largest Sunday papers to a dollar (about 65p) from $1.50 or $1.25. At the same time most papers have added 12 columns of domestic and foreign news, equivalent to two broadsheet pages. The four papers, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Detroit Free Press, San Jose Mercury News and the Kansas City Star, have all been losing circulation. Since the price cut, sales, at least on news-stands, have turned around – slightly. Other newspapers are believed to be considering following suit. The only other large newspaper to drop its price substantially in recent years has been Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post. Its news-stand price is now 25 cents (about 17p). Since it cut its price, sales have jumped almost 30 per cent.

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