Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wenner Media Denies Ignoring Internet

Wenner Media Denies Ignoring Internet
Memo Pad: Norm Grills Jann Pick Any One . . . She's Still There
By - Irin Carmon

NORM GRILLS JANN: Forty years as a magazine editor and publisher seemed to have hardly taken their toll on Jann Wenner's energy - or his bite - at least judging from a lunch interview Thursday with Carlyle Group senior adviser Norm Pearlstine organized by ASME. Pearlstine, in explaining why he was skipping Wenner's biographical details, wryly recalled sitting through years of ASME lunches "watching Time Inc. not get awards" as Wenner made trips to the podium. He then said Wenner had been "pretty cavalier" about the Internet, asking, "Are you going to continue to ignore it?" Wenner denied the characterization, saying he preferred to wait for widespread high-speed access and let bigger companies figure out how to develop on the Web. After all, he said, "Time Inc. lost billions on it." (Pearlstine was editor in chief of Time Inc. during the problematic Time Warner-AOL merger.)

Wenner did say Rolling Stone was looking at implementing social networking to facilitate music fans seeing live music. (A spokesman for the company later told WWD that Men's Journal's site will also be growing, probably by next fall.)

What about the risk of becoming "my father's magazine," as Pearlstine described the threat of the digital age? Wenner pointed out the digital music revolution had also helped young people find the music that inspired his magazine. "Who was just telling me that Rolling Stone led to them reconnecting with their kid?" Wenner said, looking out at the audience. Portfolio publisher David Carey tentatively raised a hand. "Maybe I'm deluding myself," Wenner concluded, "but the richness of the field is as great as it's ever been."

In justifying what Pearlstine called the "pessimistic tone" of Rolling Stone lately on topics like President Bush and global warming, Wenner said, "The only person I know who is optimistic is Bill Gates . . . If you have $50 billion, of course you're optimistic." "At what market cap do you become optimistic?" Pearlstine wondered. "Not at my market cap!" said Wenner.

He pointed out he would "absolutely entertain buying more magazines if they were the right kind of scale, and if we could leverage it with our advertising," though he said his launch days were likely past.

ASME president and Glamour editor in chief Cindi Leive had introduced Pearlstine by saying he could "buy all of our magazines before we even get back from lunch." When Pearlstine said he only wished they were for sale, Leive replied, "Good to know that matters." Later, Pearlstine asked Wenner whether he would sell the company before, say, a Democratic president raises the capital gains tax. "My motivation has never been the money," said Wenner, adding his "is one of the greatest jobs anyone could ever have. And I'm not so sure I'd be a good employee." ("Really?" Pearlstine interjected sarcastically.) "I'm happy to work for someone smarter than me . . ." Wenner began, then stopped. "Now I'm going to get myself into trouble."

There were less careful moments. Speaking about the pool of young talent: he didn't see an "Internet brain drain" because young people apparently face the choice between working for either "Salon or Slate, or for a magazine with a major and meaningful audience." (Incidentally, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg is an ASME board member.) When asked what magazines he read: "Since Norm left Time Inc., none of those," and said that though the newsweeklies are sent to him, they don't do it for him. "I wish them the best," he said. "I know they're trying harder." He did praise Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Earlier he had told WWD that he wants to frame a letter David Remnick wrote him praising material he found in Rolling Stone's newly released digital archive. - Irin Carmon

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