The battle over Rosie magazine is escalating. On one side there is Rosie O’Donnell, the former talkshow hostess whose name is now on the cover of what was once McCalls’ magazine. On the other side is Gruner+Jahr , the magazine’s publisher, which is concerned about the fast-declining circulation following O’Donnell’s public admission that she is a lesbian. Sales at news-stands have dropped from over half a million to 200,000. Subscriptions have also fallen 12 per cent. Worried that sales will drop even more, Gruner+Jahr hired a new editor while O’Donnell was on holiday. She stormed back to New York, stomped her foot and declared that under her contract she was in charge of the magazine. That’s when the lawyers arrived. There have been lots of behind-the-scenes talks but so far no resolution to the dispute. At least no one is saying so. There has been talk that Gruner+Jahr might sell the magazine to O’Donnell. But could she run it on her own? Would the decline in sales continue, especially if, as reported, she wants to put controversial celebrities such as Mike Tyson on the cover and run articles about what she calls "matters of life and self-acceptance"? One alternative is for the magazine to be closed down. As Professor Patricia Prijatel of Drake University put it: "How can you turn out a magazine called Rosie if you don’t have Rosie?"
American advertising experts now agree with their European counterparts that the hoped-for upturn in advertising is not likely to happen this year – and maybe not even next year. Despite the fact that some magazines here are putting out fatter-than-ever September issues – GQ has 313 ad pages, while Maxim has 158 – most titles are still struggling to fill their pages. Travel and technology magazines, for example, are so skinny they look more like brochures. The reason: many advertisers are still being selective about where they spend their diminished ad-budgets. Most are no longer taking ads in similar magazines, which is why GQ’s ads are up, but Esquire’s are down. Vogue is up: its September issue has 750 pages of ads and weighs 4lbs, while Elle is down. It’s the same for newspapers. At USA Today, ads are down 16 per cent. The Wall Street Journal’s ads are off 17 per cent. Even the New York Times is down 6 per cent. When will it all end? Not until well into 2003, some experts now predict.
As if ad managers didn’t have enough problems, there are several new competitors on the scene. Sports celebrities are now promoting products with tattoos on their bare skin; dogs with placards on their sides have been seen on Manhattan streets and now we have ads on the sides of baby carriages. A Danish firm is to offer free baby carriages, with ads on the sides, to new parents. They can keep the prams until their child baby is two-and-a-half, as long as they keep pushing them through the streets.
In the 500th issue of Vanity Fair, the magazine Tina Brown helped save back in the early Eighties, there are all sorts of stories and pictures recounting the magazine’s history, including a selection of covers over the years. One is Harry Benson’s picture of Ronald and Nancy Reagan kicking up their heels in the White House. There is also a feature recalling how the magazine was started back in 1914. And how over the years it has reflected the life and vanities of several generations. But of the magazine’s British-born saviour there is not a single mention.