Monday, July 02, 2007

Digital Dramatics: Staff Changes Reflect Magazines' New Direction

Digital Dramatics: Staff Changes Reflect Magazines' New Direction
by Erik Sass, Monday, Jul 2, 2007 7:00 AM ET

Big things are afoot in the top ranks of the leading magazine publishers. Personnel changes indicate the growing importance of digital operations to traditionally print-focused companies.

Vivek Shah -- formerly head of digital publishing for Time Inc.'s Finance and Business Network -- was bumped up to president of the division on Friday, replacing Chris Poleway. Last week, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia named former Yahoo sales chief Wenda Harris Millard its new president of media.

Millard's move to MSLO from Yahoo was part of a larger game of musical (and disappearing) chairs at both companies. At Yahoo, the display ad sales division headed by Millard is merging with the company's search ad business. Meanwhile At MSLO, president and publisher Lauren Stanich is stepping into an advisory role.

As the new president of media, Millard will oversee MSLO's publishing, Internet, and broadcast concerns. Brand matriarch Stewart predicted: "Under Wenda, I expect many new and beneficial developments, including an intensified focus on our Web site, more cross-platform content initiatives and international expansion."

Her new role actually marks Millard's return to the publishing world. Most recently, from 2000-2001, she was chief Internet officer for tech and gaming publisher Ziff Davis Media, as well as president of Ziff Davis Internet. In that role, Millard helped launch the smaller publisher's move to digital distribution. The business disruptions caused by the Internet affected Ziff Davis earlier than other publishers, due to its Web-savvy readership and tech-focused editorial mission. After a prolonged rough patch, the company returned to profitability in the last year.

While MSLO is doing well on both its print and digital sides, things aren't quite so rosy at Time Inc.'s Finance and Business Network, where its name-brand business mags have been struggling. Shah, seen as a rising star in the company, has a challenging mission. Can he bring his online success to the network's struggling print operations?

2006 was a hard year for the individual titles -- Fortune, Money, Business 2.0 and Fortune Small Business -- and 2007 is shaping up to be even worse, according to figures from the Publisher's Information Bureau. In the first quarter, Fortune's ad pages were down 12.9%, compared to the same period last year, Money's tumbled 33.2%, Business 2.0 dropped 21.8%, and Fortune Small Business sagged 6.4%.

Shah's online credentials are impressive. He led to a triumphant 2006, when Nielsen//NetRatings declared it the top business Web site in terms of unique visitors, page views and time spent. (It also received the award for best business and financial Web site from OMMA, owned by MediaPost.) But it remains to be seen whether Shah's magic will translate from online to print.

One possibility: Shah isn't expected to restore the print operations to their former glory, but rather to slim them down -- perhaps even transform them into useful adjuncts to a Web-centered distribution strategy. Over the last couple years, Time Inc. has shown itself more than willing to slash magazines' guaranteed rate base -- as it did with flagship Time magazine in September 2006 -- or dump print operations entirely.

Teen People got the axe in July 2006, and Life magazine folded in March of this year. The Teen People brand was supposed to live on with its Web site, but the online presence was nixed earlier this year.

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