Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Sarah Palin Is a Hit for Vanity Fair. But She’s No Jessica Simpson–Or Miley Cyrus!

sarah-palin-vfThe punditocracy is still trying to figure out why Sarah Palin is bailing on her day job. But over at Condé Nast’s Vanity Fair, they’ve got better things to do–like tallying page views for Todd Purdum’s buzzy feature story on the soon-to-be former governor of Alaska.

The story went up on six days ago and has generated just under two million page views since then, says executive online editor Michael Hogan. (Disclosure: I’ve been a free-lance contributor to Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment” list in the past and will be again this year). Had Palin not made her blockbuster announcement on the Friday before the Fourth of July, the piece would be doing even better: Vanity Fair generated more traffic on the Tuesday the story was posted than the day after Palin made her news.

Still, it’s a big coup for the magazine’s site. The only way to generate more attention would be to run a slideshow featuring young attractive women.

Which the site can also do: Its story-and-photo package on Jessica Simpson, which ran in May, attracted 5.5 million page views to the site over a two-day period. Vanity Fair has generated 85 million page views so far this year, Hogan says.

And if you really want to generate traffic, run slideshows featuring very young attractive women. Last year the magazine’s 18-picture slideshow featuring a kind-of-topless Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus attracted some 18 million page views in a couple of days.

None of that will be terribly surprising to people who’ve wallowed in Web publishing for any amount of time. What surprised me a bit, though, was Vanity Fair’s decision to publish the piece in its entirety from the start. Doesn’t that cannibalize newsstand sales?

Maybe, says Hogan. But “it’s an open question as to what costs newsstand and what doesn’t.” And as the magazine tries to figure that out, he says, it has been experimenting. Some stuff goes up online before the magazine hits newsstands, while other pieces won’t appear on the site until a month later.

In the case of the Palin piece, the magazine had originally prepared to run an excerpt/summary of the story at first, then make the whole thing available by the end of the month after the news cycle was extinguished.

But on Friday, June 26, a few days before the excerpt was scheduled to run online, the magazine rethought its plan, assuming that the piece would be widely quoted and discussed before most people would ever see it. “The PR department started getting concerned that it was going to be controversial, and they wanted people to read the whole thing, and draw their own conclusions,” Hogan says. The final call went to Editor-in-Chief Graydon Carter, who, I gather, isn’t really much of a Web guy.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to read Michael Lewis’s latest piece for the magazine, on AIG’s (AIG) notorious “financial products” division. That one’s only available, for now, in excerpt form online, which means I’m actually going to have pay cash to read it, or wait a few hours–Hogan says it should be available in full later today.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus