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The Three Musketeers of Condé Nast Ride Again

Graydon Carter, Anna Wintour and David Remnick are having career years — or at least ones that should go down as All-Star seasons on their Hall of Fame plaques.

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There’s also an indication that the magazine will get a freshening up: Carter poached Chris Dixon from New York Magazine to become his new design director, the first time in 18 years that Vanity Fair will have a new creative force.

Also bolstering its look, The New Yorker has hired Wyatt Mitchell, the number two in Condé Nast’s tablet design department, to become its first creative director. Mitchell said there are some areas of the print magazine that “need some refreshing” and that will be his first task.

He was also responsible, in part, for The New Yorker’s success on the iPad. Condé Nast has placed an awfully big bet on the tablets in terms of money, people’s time and energy. And if it weren’t for The New Yorker, the publishing company would have an awful lot less to brag about. The New Yorker has a digital circulation of about 210,000, which counts for more than a third of Condé Nast’s entire digital circulation of roughly 600,000 readers. Also, The New Yorker now has 33,502 subscriptions for the iPad, which leads the company, one insider said (and it certainly leads by a wide mile in terms of revenue — subscriptions are sold at $59.99 a year or $5.99 a month; all other titles are sold at much lower price points).

WWD is unit of Fairchild Fashion Media, which is owned by Condé Nast.

One could easily make the argument of: So what? These are legacy titles. The New Yorker, no matter who is editing it, would do extremely well on the iPad. Vogue and Vanity Fair are strong enough titles that they, too, would have plenty of success if someone else came in and ran them.

“Sure, it’s helpful to have a magazine called Vanity Fair or The New Yorker rather than some obscure publication,” said Wintour. “But it’s what the editor makes it. That’s why we’ve all been so fortunate to work for S.I. Newhouse. He understands that and he has such respect for the editors in chief and he believes those are the ones who need to lead the publication rather than any, I don’t know, market research or anything like that.”

The power of the editors is an argument that all three signed up for.

“The history of magazines or even the history of business or just about anything else is filled with examples of institutions or publications you might have thought were eternal,” said Remnick. “But just as it’s possible to make a lot of daring or correct decisions or have talented people at the head of them, you also have the flip side — you have institutions that run out of gas or make terribly ill-advised decisions and they go in the opposite direction. There are no guarantees. The New Yorker was created by two really radically different editors, but over time they created a fantastic foundation. If you suddenly chip away at its notions of accuracy or fairness or do not take present and future technology seriously, you could do tremendous damage very quickly.”

At a moment for magazines when the bottom line is everything, and gesturing toward the future is so significant, all three can point to a victory — successes that suggest that they are doing something greater than maintaining the status quo. And all three editors said, explicitly or not, that’s because of who’s in charge of them.

“You look at the brands that have longevity and nearly always — in whatever business you’re talking about — there’s a dominant force behind them,” said Wintour. “I totally believe — and I’m sure Graydon and David believe this, too — in a benevolent dictatorship, because you have to have a vision, as they both do, and not worry what’s happening to the left or the right of you.”

 

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