WSJ. and T: The Rivalry Is On

Led by Deborah Needleman, Rupert Murdoch’s team at The Wall Street Journal's luxury magazine is beginning to feel some momentum.

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Deborah Needleman

Photo By Steve Eichner

Like Tonchi’s W, Needleman’s WSJ. is bringing in good returns. Since she took over in 2010, the Little Engine That Could of the Journal newsroom has had frequency increases from six to nine to 10 issues. In the six issues that overlapped between 2010 and 2011, it saw 30 percent ad page gains, according to the Journal’s internal stats, which a spokeswoman said are tallied in accordance with how the Publishers Information Bureau would add it up. In 2010, WSJ. finished with 217 ad pages and last year had 383. Its March issue is up 27 percent year-over-year and its publisher said that the April issue will be up more than 50 percent. The magazine, which once had no place in the world of fashion media, is quietly beginning to circulate more and more.

Needleman created a cult magazine in Domino, but it wasn’t a commercial success — it closed four years after it started, one of six Condé Nast titles that shuttered in 2009. Now, it appears that Needleman that could be turning into a bit of a business success.

“It’s nice that it’s fat with ads and they’re good-looking ads,” said Needleman. “But from my perspective I’m still doing the same thing, which is trying to make the best magazine I can make. But it’s definitely nicer be at a growing magazine.”

When she took over WSJ., she said it was a “respectable luxury platform” but that “it didn’t have a whole lot of personality.”

She said she had to set out figuring out a way to connect a lot of different interests for her luxury title — fashion, luxury, philanthropy, art, food, business, design and technology.

“The filter — that’s how these disparate subjects get held together in one magazine,” she said. “I had this at Domino. All the stories have to meet certain criteria. It’s like influence, and creativity and innovation and power or a sense of independence. Every person, idea or story is in some way kicking off one of those boxes and that’s how it keeps it coherent. Lots of magazines create coherence by doing all one thing — it’s like Dwell, it’s all one look or something! But the other way, in my mind, is to have a kind of filter that everything goes through. You basically create a world, a little hermetic world.

“I felt like at Domino we were feeding decorating crack to 30-year-old girls,” she continued. “The audience was made for what we were serving them. It surprises me and this is something that pleases me much more than any of the ad things.”

And what of her rival, Singer? When Needleman and Singer were both appointed to their jobs, it looked like it could be the most intriguing of the several wars between the Journal and the Times. After all, both were extremely well-respected and burnished their reputations at 4 Times Square — not the newspaper world. Is T Magazine her rival?

“I was giving this talk to the ad people yesterday or two days ago, and I think it’s really something that’s true for the advertisers,” she said. “To them, they are our direct competitors. The ad dollars are finite and if they go here, they’re not going somewhere else. But making a magazine is not quite like that. I truly don’t ever think about other magazines when I’m making this magazine. I feel like it’s a natural comparison for other people to make but it doesn’t feel real to me at all.”

But to her bosses? And to Singer’s? It’s starting to feel very real.


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