Why Portfolio’s Peers Shouldn’t Be Celebrating

Published on April 28, 2009
by Peter Kafka

newstandWhile the chattering classes continue to pick over Portfolio’s bones, it’s worth checking in on the business titles Condé Nast was targeting with its ill-fated magazine. In short: None of them are suffering from a Portfolio-like swoon, but none of them should be boasting.

Portfolio’s ad pages were down more than 60 percent in the first quarter of 2009. If you account for the magazine’s decreased frequency–it published two issues in the first free months of the year, down down from three last year–that works out to be a 40 percent drop. Here’s how its peers performed during the same period, via the Magazine Publishers of America:

McGraw-Hill’s (MHP) BusinessWeek: Down 39.8 percent

Time Warner’s (TWX) Fortune: Down 26.3 percent

Privately held Forbes: Down 15 percent

Bear in mind that the revenue numbers for each title are likely down much more dramatically. That’s because the two categories of advertisers that the business magazines have depended on to fill their pages–financial services and autos–have all received extra-vicious beatings from the economy since last summer. So the publishers are particularly vulnerable to rate card pressure. And I’m told that luxury and travel advertisers, which had stayed relatively strong through the end of 2008, fell off dramatically this year. So that can’t be good.

My contribution to the aforementioned bone-picking: Like everyone else who wrote about Portfolio yesterday, I mentioned that the magazine and Web site had reportedly been launched with a budget of $100 million or more. But let’s be clear–that’s $100 million (or more), to be spent over a five-year period.

Portfolio was around for two years, and was gestating for a year before that, and a bunch of the budget was likely spent up front.┬áSo Condé Nast likely did burn through a very large pile of cash–the New York Times’s David Carr reports that the magazine spent $30,000 last fall to “procure the services of a real elephant to menace a model at a photo shoot.” And I’d love to know what the total actually was (for the record, I asked, and no one will tell me). But it’s a stretch to think Condé Nast actually burned through nine figures on this one.

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