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ALL FOR THE BIG SPENDERS: Richard David Story has arguably one of the best jobs in publishing.
The Departures editor in chief doesn’t have the same nagging concerns that preoccupy his counterparts, such as newsstand sales, which overall fell 9 percent in the first half of the year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. “The real luxury of this magazine is that we don’t have newsstand sales, which is where publishing is taking a hit these days,” said Story. “It also seems that I don’t have to sell celebrities in the magazine or on the cover. We have this very rarefied, special audience.”
That audience is comprised of more than 1 million American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders who receive Departures free in the mail seven times a year. That makes Departures almost Teflon-coated against the recession. The September issue is up 24 percent in advertising revenue and 16 percent in ad pages from the same issue last year. Year-to-date, the magazine is 46 percent ahead of last year.
“Everybody feels the recession, but our readers are still spending,” said Story. “They’re still buying and traveling. High-priced suits are selling, and try booking a first-class airline seat now.”
Story said that about 90 percent of high-end sales are charged to Platinum or Centurion cards, which explains why advertisers are so eager to tap into the deep pockets of Departures readers.
He sees Departures as a service magazine for readers whose annual income happens to be between $650,000 and $1 million. “It helps them understand why they should spend their money on something — its heritage and provenance and craftsmanship.”
Story likes to mix it up a bit when it comes to assigning writers to projects. So in the same issue that Beth Gutcheon wrote about living in Blue Hill, Maine, an exclusive yacht community that wants to stay that way, there’s a travel diary by Rosanne Cash about life on the road during a mini tour. “I like to use more than the usual suspects,” Story said. “I love using people who are not writers. Rosanne Cash’s memoir is terrific. She’s one of my favorite people. I had to stop the journey or she would have taken up the whole magazine.”
Story recently had lunch with Patti Smith and convinced her to do a story about Tangier for Departures. Now he can cross one name off his wish list of photographers, writers and stories. “I would love to work with Thomas Struth,” he said of the German photographer whose work has been exhibited in many top museums. “I’ve never done a story on Scottish castles. There are adventure stories I’d like to do. That’s become hugely important, because [our reader] is always looking for a challenge. People have made all the money in the world, and now what they need is to have a life experience. Climbing the Matterhorn. That would be a good story for me. The one thing our readers are united by is the fact that they have the money to indulge and pursue their passions.”