American Pie 25.05.01

The worsening economy is taking its toll. Last year magazines suffered their worst drop in advertising, while news-stand sales – which account for about 25 per cent of all sales – were also down. Only 35 per cent of the magazines shipped to news-stands in supermarkets, airports and bookstores were actually sold. Adding to the woes, the US Postal Service is talking of once again putting up the price of the postage it charges magazines. All this at a time when magazines, to counter the fall in subscriptions, have been slashing their subscription rates. Some are now offering subs as low as 75 cents (50p) a copy.

Newspapers here are cutting pages and staff. The Boston Globe, which is owned by The New York Times group, is reducing the size of its Sunday book section and its week-in-review section from nine pages to five. At the same time it is cutting its staff by 10 per cent. The Miami Herald is cutting its staff by 10 per cent, with about 700 expected to be laid off, while USA Today is cutting its staff by 5 per cent and even closing its bureau in Texas. At the New York Daily News, staff who are being fired can at least vent their anger without losing their compensation. At first, those who are being "pink-slipped" were warned they would forfeit their pay-off if they talked to anyone outside the paper about their dismissal. So many protested that owner Mort Zuckerman hastily rescinded the order.

A head-to-head war appears imminent between the people who make newsprint and those who use it. The newsprint producers are trying to make publishers pay more for paper than at any time in the past five years, $660 (£440) a tonne. Publishers are angry and determined to resist. Newsprint represents about 20 per cent of a typical newspaper’s cost, so even a 4 per cent increase will shave profit margins at companies such as Gannett, Knight Ridder, the Tribune Company and the New York Times. For years the paper mills complained they ran at a loss. Now, after several mergers, the top three, Abitibi, Bowater and Norske Skog, who just four years ago controlled only 30 per cent of North American newsprint, now control about 60 per cent. Which gives them a lot more clout. One analyst predicts a "real street brawl" and in the meantime newspapers are stockpiling newsprint and some cutting their page size.

The day when newsprint might not be so essential is one step nearer. Scientists are working on a new electronic paper that can be used to download a newspaper straight from a computer. It’s wafer thin and uses a new electronic ink. This e-paper is said to be capable of being rolled up or folded in the same way as a conventional newspaper. And its biggest virtue? It’s reusable.

Sparks are flying between Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. They started when Katherine Betts, editor of Harper’s, and Anna Wintour, her opposite number at Vogue, discovered their magazines were not only featuring the same model, Gisele Bundchen, on their June covers, but also that both were running interviews with Laura Bush. Now the two glossies have discovered they were both planning to run Britney Spears on their covers later this year, Harper’s in August and Vogue in November. A representative for Spears said that, as far as she knew, she was still confirmed for both covers. Asked what she would do if Vogue decided to drop Spears, the spokeswoman said: "Come on, she’s Britney Spears. Vogue would be idiots to throw her off the cover." No comment yet from Wintour.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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