Let's be generous and accept Memo Pad's word that Portfolio is selling 15-18% of the copies it ships to newsstands. (We'd heard some issues had registered as low as 12%). That's still deeply embarrassing for Conde Nast, which has committed $100m to the new business title, the biggest magazine launch in years — and maybe one of the last before print enters its final decline. One Portfolio writer says of the magazine's numbers: "Well, that's not that much lower than Cargo." Yes, but Cargo's dead.
To be sure, Portfolio has flooded the newsstands in an effort to make an impact, which means many copies are pulped; and embattled editor Joanne Lipman eschewed eye-catching tricks such as, oh, putting a recognizable face on the cover; and the magazine is still new. But, says one magazine analyst: "30s would be decent for a launch. Portfolio is such a misfire — it's far from just a cover problem."
Conde Nast has poured way too much money and reputation into Portfolio ever to let it fail, and the magazine is still a good idea. S.I. Newhouse's most successful titles, such as Vanity Fair, have a largely female readership: a demographic reality that the Conde ad salesmen gloss over when selling to auto marketers and mens' apparel brands. Conde Nast still needs a flagship title for high-income men. (Here ends the boring magazine business background.)
So, what to do? Joanne Lipman has already been forced to give up the arty covers of Portfolio's first few issues, in favor of more topical imagery (January's had a picture of a corporate spy). But her bosses have to wonder whether Lipman, whose reputation was made by the fluffy weekend section of the Wall Street Journal, is the right person to make a must-read publication for top executives.
David Carey, publisher of Portfolio and now other titles, was the big winner in Conde Nast's executive purge this week. The one thing that would stymie his continued ascension at S.I. Newhouse's court: the failure of Portfolio. So here's a bet that, with his expanded authority, he finds a replacement for Lipman. Let's float one wild idea: Wired is now broadly in Carey's sphere of influence, so slide over the West Coast magazine's editor, Chris Anderson. Sure, he enjoys his current job; and he's a bit too geeky to produce wealth porn; but the former Economist writer would bring some badly-needed authority to Portfolio.