McKinsey & Co.'s penny-pinching audit of Conde Nast is underway, and they're successfully striking fear into the hearts of employees at all levels. Apparently magazines are expected to "make money," now?

John Koblin reports that McKinsey's expected to start making formal recommendations in October, but their very presence is already freaking people the fuck out. And CEO Charles Townsend isn't helping; at a meeting with company publishers last Friday, Townsend was just scrutable enough to sound scary:

Mr. Townsend, however, did make one comment that seemed to ring out especially loudly to publishers in the room (and echoed among the staffers who heard it later): "We have to run profitable businesses," he said, when explaining McKinsey.

That has never been the case before! Traditionally Conde was financially supported by the less glamorous but reliably profitable Newhouse newspapers, so the magazine company could afford to subsidize titles it believed in, or thought were good for the brand. But newspaper money has dried up. And running a publishing company at which your titles are expected to turn a profit usually translates to a far more utilitarian stable of publications than Conde's, where the mags are rich in tradition, reputation, glamor, and snootiness, but not necessarily in revenue.

How scared is the staff? We heard that one (unverified) bit of gossip going around the office is that McKinsey could recommend cuts of 1/4 to 1/3 of the editorial staff, focusing on the lowest levels. Whether that's true or not, it goes to show how edgy the Conde assistants probably are.

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[NYO. Pic via]