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Just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 31, the editor in chief of Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit, Adam Rapoport, looked like he was on an infomercial. Rapoport, in a taped segment on HSN, was working hard at selling Bon Appétit’s newly debuted kitchenware.
“We have immersion blenders that will just power through anything and everything,” he said. “And at the same token they look beautiful, so they’re going to look great on your shelf in your kitchen.”
The blender — which costs just under $70 — was one of several Bon Ap-branded products up for sale: pressure cookers, countertop burners, skillets, pineapple cutters and stainless steel mixing bowls were all in the mix. For years, Condé Nast had stayed far away from licensing, let alone let an editor in chief shill products in the middle of the night.
But this was an ambitious moment for the publisher as it redefines itself in a new media age, and it paid off. Within a day, HSN sold more than 20,000 units of Bon Ap’s cookware and kitchen appliances, making it one of the network’s best culinary debuts ever.
“When Jim Nelson took over at GQ when I was there back in 2003, he had a magazine to edit, and that was pretty much it and he did so remarkably well,” said Rapoport in an interview with WWD. “Now it’s a magazine and a full-fledged Web site and an app. And we have an HSN cookware line, and we have a 600-page grilling book coming out next year and we’re working on TV shows to get developed, you know, which is in some ways exciting and in some ways totally daunting as well. I think the key, to kind of borrow a business term, is to stay on brand.”
Rapoport is the paradigm of a modern editor in chief, or what could easily be referred to as content brand officer. He is TV-polished — he’s been on the “Today” show twice in the last two weeks — and a reliable advocate for Bon Appétit television pilots, book projects and pots and pans. His company adores him.
Publishers at Hearst Corp., Time Inc., Condé Nast and Meredith Corp. have reconceived the definition of a magazine editor. The notion of editors consumed with getting those pages out the door seems old-fashioned. Editing and designing — the old Harold Ross and Harold Hayes and Clay Felker part of the business — is increasingly a smaller part of the job. In the past, the editor ruled and the publisher simply sold. Now, the new editor is the handmaiden of the publisher. To be an editor these days is to be — as one Condé Nast award called it — a good collaborator.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a choice.
“Yeah, 10 years ago, you could just say no,” said Rapoport, when discussing the HSN line. “Nowadays, it’s pretty much nonnegotiable. You’re going to do it.”
He is not alone. The new highest encomium for editors is not literary — it is entrepreneurial.
“If you’re yearning to sit in a small office and do nothing but edit a literary journal — not that I have anything against literary journals — I can see how it’s very stressful,” said Good Housekeeping editor Rosemary Ellis. “If you want to be more peripatetic and expand in more than one direction, it’s a great time to be an editor in chief.”
A big-time executive, Hearst Magazines president David Carey, said he couldn’t be happier with the sudden job description change for editors. Late last year, he had a meeting with one of Hearst’s “key businesses,” Ellis’ Good Housekeeping. Ellis detailed all the activities that she was personally involved in: the magazine, the Web site, tablet editions, e-books, a physical book born out of a section of the magazine — “Drop 5 Pounds” — and the TV show being produced around it.
“I think I ran out of fingers by time she was done talking about what she was involved in,” said Carey. “I said, ‘Thank goodness that the job of being an editor in chief today is so dramatically different than what it was just a few years ago.’ ”
Carey told WWD that editors are just as excited as he is by this development.
“Maybe there was a period of time when everyone begrudgingly had to carve out time from their day in these new areas,” he said and then spoke of the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan. “Now they do so with real enthusiasm. I’m very close to Kate White and, off and on, at 11:30 at night I’ll be exchanging e-mails with her about social media strategies around the Cosmo brand. And I’ll engage: ‘Well, what about this!’ ‘What about that!’ ‘And what if we did this?’ ”
“We’re not just running creative teams,” said Hearst’s men’s group editorial director and Popular Mechanics editor Jim Meigs. “We’re running new business incubators. We’re constantly thinking about where can we take our content and roll it into new platforms and in ways that are going to make money.”
Carey compared modern day editors to a designer like Tory Burch — who, he said, is not simply a designer. She’s also obsessing about retail, manufacturing, her Web site. Just like editors and their various projects.
“You’ve created these branded environments and you’re creating this whole world that Tory’s a part of,” he said. “What does the fragrance look like? And, in her case, there’s no doubt a social aspect. It all becomes a very additive process. So I think most of the editors would find it to be quite exhilarating. And maybe on some days, it’s just long! But I think that those who are really adapting best to it are doing really exciting things.”
And this is apparently true to many editors.
“There are occasional days when I’m clutching my hair in my hands thinking how ‘Oh, my God, how do we get these 17 things done before midnight?’ ” said Ellis, of Good Housekeeping. “But the truth is, it’s more interesting, it’s more exciting and I like a lot of diversity in my life. And boy, do I have it.”
“We have a number of television products that are in their infancy stages,” said Cosmopolitan’s White on Wednesday evening, right off a flight from L.A. where she was working on developing TV projects. “I go out to meet with publicists and studio people and the trips are now combined with meeting with film people and network people and that sort of thing.”
She then spent the next several minutes discussing Cosmo’s “brand extensions”— Cosmo Radio, Cosmo for Guys iPad app, books, e-books among them — and said, proudly, “My guess is we have the most number of the brand extensions in the company.”