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by Vault Consulting Editors | September 25, 2009


For anyone currently working in publishing or journalism, the chill in the air isn’t merely from the onset of fall. Everyone and their mother seems to be waiting with bated breath for the impending death of print as we know it, even though Egon Spengler already called it 25 years ago (and even if I’m about a year behind everyone else making that same reference).

Amid the persistent rounds of bankruptcies and layoffs at numerous printing houses and papers, what seems to catch the most notice is what’s currently going down at Condé Nast. As we noted a few months ago, Nast put in a call to McKinsey to get “Si’s house” in order. The magazine giant seems to be hogging the attention for this tragic downturn all to itself, as its peers snap up and blog about any and all developments emerging from Nast’s Times Square headquarters. Not that you can blame them—given the esteem for titles under the Condé shingle, the idea of McKinsey’s notoriously conservative beancounters imposing cuts (or even—gasp—elimination) at the glitzy likes of Vanity Fair and Voguemakes this seem like the last stand for the business of the printed word.

Now The New York Observer reports what appears to be the outcome of the consulting firm's analysis. The findings? Shockingly anticlimactic: So far, the titles Details, Traveler and Glamourare confirmed as being instructed to reduce their budgets by “25-ish percent.” While charts and graphs, all presented in spiffy McKinsey-branded binders, were provided to show where costs could be reduced, ultimately, it’s being left to each magazine to decide how they’ll meet those targets. So it’s not exactly the pinkslip parade many had expected; as showdowns go, this one seems relatively democratic.

Of course, 25 percent budget cuts are nothing to sneeze at, even for is a company built on legendary excesses—examples like Vanity Fair’s rumored $5-million-a-year-for-life contract with photographer Annie Leibovitz immediately spring to mind. So it’s all but certain that each publication is dropping staff. And having already seen the writing on the wall, some of the magazines have been getting their digs in: Tech-nerd periodical Wiredleft a clever aside for McKinsey's reps in the its latest issue, in an segment advising that readers “don’t work all the time” (McKinsey reps were unavailable for comment). Dramatic accounts are being leaked from staff of Orangina being removed from the company fridge, and famed editor/restauranteur Graydon Carter seen eating in the cafeteria.

Ultimately, the final chapter has yet to be written in the three-month saga of McKinsey at Condé, as meetings appear to be ongoing and the consultancy has another week to go in its contract. Perhaps some spectacular fallout is being saved for last, or maybe McKinsey will play it safe to avoid looking like the bad guys; at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. All that’s known is that one title has been spared: The New Yorker, the pride and joy of Condé Nast owner S.I. Newhouse (and the lit community at large) was not subject to any scrutiny, as the magazine had making independent efforts to clean up its budget over the past year. So, somehow, Eustace Tilley manages to keep his abnormally pronounced neck off the chopping block—this time.

- Alex Tuttle, Vault Editorial Intern


Filed Under: Consulting