American Pie 31.07.03

If The Guardian’s US news weekly goes ahead, who will be its editor? One name being mentioned is Sidney Blumenthal, former aide to President Clinton, whose book, The Clinton Wars, has been on The New York Times’s bestseller list for the past month. He has hinted to friends that he has been talking with The Guardian. He claims such a magazine has been in his mind for many years – even in the days when he was the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker.In fact, Blumenthal has been seeking potential investors for a long time – among them Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone and the news-making Us magazine.

At the same time, if the plan to launch a US version of OK! bears fruit, who is in the running for that editor’s job? One possibility is Tony Frost, editor-in-chief of the Daily Star until six months ago. He is now back, temporarily at least, with American Media. Publisher David Pecker says he has called him in as a consultant to take an in-depth look at the OK! project. Also tipped for the job is Joanna Coles, who worked for The Guardian for 10 years and then was The Times’s New York bureau chief. Lately, she has been writing features for New York magazine. At a media conference in New York last week, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said of the project: “If we do it, we’ll do it by January” – the start of a new election year in the US.

If The Guardian needs any encouragement, the latest figures for The Economist show that a British publication without celebrities or scantily clad women can make it in the US. While the circulations of Time and Newsweek have been dropping, sales of The Economist have climbed a whopping 81 per cent in the past decade. Its US circulation exceeds 350,000 – more than a third of its total worldwide sales. Its fastest-growing US market is the West Coast – up 45 per cent in the past four years. It is claimed that the typical Economist reader is well-heeled enough not to be put off by an expensive subscription ($100/£61). Their median income is more than $135,000, a lot higher than that of readers of Time, Forbes, Newsweek, Business Week or Fortune.

Not unexpectedly, after his paper’s trashing by former National Enquirer editor Iain Calder, the editor of the NY Daily News, Ed Kosner, has announced he will retire when his contract is up. That won’t officially be until next March – but everyone expects that Kosner, who has edited Newsweek, Esquire and New York Magazine, won’t stay in charge that long. “He’s a lame duck” was how one News staffman put it.

Who will replace him? The betting is on Steve Coz, the displaced editorial director of the National Enquirer, Star Magazine and the other American Media tabloids.

Penthouse is reportedly “spiralling to its death”. It’s in such financial straits the staff received only 25 per cent of their salaries this month. The company is said to be more than $40m (£25m) in debt. Not only that, but Bob Guccione, the publisher who founded the magazine in London 30 years ago, faced losing his Manhattan mansion.

It’s been under threat of foreclosure and only last-minute negotiations saved it. At its peak in the Seventies, Penthouse had a circulation of more than five million and was Playboy’s biggest rival. Now it’s fewer than 500,000. Although Playboy is not the big seller it was, publisher Hugh Hefner still enjoys his role as an old dude in pyjamas who presides over parties at the Playboy Mansion.

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