After a long holiday weekend left the usual Wednesday lunch crowd without their weekly power lunch fix, the town car set who could tear themselves away from their Hampton cottages returned to Michael’s today. I say we outlaw any more midweek July 4th holidays. Too confusing!
I was joined today by Bob Guccione Jr. who I met last year when we weighed in on the ever expanding culture of celebrity for a journalism panel for Names Not Numbers. After crossing paths in this dining room several times over the past year, we decided it was time for a proper Michael’s lunch once and for all.
I wasn’t disappointed. Bob ventured in for our lunch and some other important business in town from his home in rural Pennsylvania (“I’m one postage stamp away from being the Unabomber!’). A few years ago, having grown “sick of New York” he decamped to Mississippi to teach journalism and has decided country life beats living in Manhattan hands down. “It’s so peaceful,” he says.
Bob tells a terrific tale of his fascinating career in media that started at the age of 18 in the UK when he became Britain’s youngest ever publisher. A year later, he launched Rock Superstars, making him the youngest publisher in America. As the son of one of publishing’s most colorful figures, it seems his career path was predetermined but, says Bob, “I knew I loved it. I wanted to be a writer but I had no life experience.”
That changed pretty quickly. In 1985, he launched SPIN, sold it in 1997 t0 Vibe Ventures, and launched Gear in 1998. Then, in 2005 he bought Discover from Disney. He remembers the moment well. “The staff regarded me with some trepidation. When I told them ‘We’re in the entertainment business,’ there was an audible gasp in the room.” By the time he stepped down as chairman two years later, the magazine had returned to profitability.
Our conversation revolved around passion for the business and the elusive quest for profitability and Bob had plenty to say on both fronts. Besides being incredibly funny (sorry, but his best remarks are off the record), the tireless entrepreneur proved to be a fascinating lunch date as he shared his extremely well-reasoned take on why he believes writers will one day be able to make a living online and why magazines are far from over. “Everything about digital media happened too fast, and people back the wrong model too quickly,” he told me. Exhibit A: The Huffington Post, which Bob says is “doomed to fail” and called it “a white elephant — it’s the default model.”
The future sucesses online, says Bob, is in recognizing that quality begets quality. In order to be profitable online, publishers “have to produce superior content, and smart people realize you have to pay for that.” Of the plethora of blogs that give writers “exposure” instead of a fair wage he says, “Just because you can get someone to do something for free doesn’t mean someone else is going to patronize that site. Cheaper is never better.” Too much of the content written for free is “self-referential and self-promotional — even good writers can fall into that trap. It’s like processed food. It’s filling, but it’s not good for you.”
So, says Bob, well-written, interesting content – and the writers who get paid to write it – will be the deciding factor of winners and losers online. Those writers might want to send Bob their resumes. He tells me he’s working on two startups, a luxury travel site and winedaddy.com, a wine site with a “heavy commerce component” that “won’t be snobbish about wine.” Both are scheduled to launch within the next six months. He is also hard at work on a new food magazine for print which will, of course, have an online component. (The site’s content will be exclusive and different from the print edition). Here’s a tasty tidbit about the project: Bob tells me he’s working on the project with a “brilliant famous chef” as his co-editor. “It’s someone who really understands media.” It’s too soon to say more, says Bob, so let the guessing game begin! “When people say ‘magazines are over’ I say, ‘Not the good ones!'” he reasons. “Gourmet folded because it wasn’t a good magazine. Too much of the stuff was self-referential and it wasn’t entertaining.” He points to New York magazine as an example of a magazine that’s “doing its job.” Says Bob: “Not everyone reads it, but those who do enjoy it.”
As for profitability, it’s all a matter of perspective. For example, he notes, there is no “real reason” for three million readers to get their celebrity news from People these days given the bumper crop of celebrity titles and sites, but they do. “All things considered they should probably have two million readers. Large corporations have to recaliberate their expectations and look realistically at media consumption,” he says. “It’s not lowering the basket — it’s reality.”
Bob’s zest for the plethora of projects he’s got in the works is endless. “I’m like the kid in the sandbox with a new toy. I’m childlike in my enthusiasm for all of it. I want to explore and immerse myself in all the possibilities. Good media should be like a good dinner: appealing, engaging, sensual and exciting. That’s what I look for in everything I do.” I’ll have what he’s having.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. We would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for this one: NBC Universal chair Bob Greenblatt, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and another fellow we didn’t recognize
2. John Sykes and Michael Benson
3. Lanky Luke Janklow
4. RLM Finsbury’s Ed Adler
5. Money man Stephen Swid
6. Three members of ‘The Imber Gang:” Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Jeff Greenfield (Long time no see!)
7. Bob Guccione and yours truly
8. Designer Dennis Basso and Hamilton South
11. Cosmo editrix Kate White and Jane Buckingham of trendera.com. Jane is also the author of the complusively readable The Modern Girls Guide series. Her latest will be a guide “to raising decent daughters.” Good call! These two stylistas win the day’s best dressed honors. Kate was rocking her own combo of a Moschino blouse and Jil Sander skirt with some killer Prada heels, while Jane breezed in an adorable striped sundress by Juicy Couture. Looking good!
12. Chanel’s Susan Duffy in a summer boucle jacket and gorgeous lucite heels with two very preppy looking fellows (a father and son, we hear). Junior charmingly paired his jeans and Jack Purcells with a rep striped tie. How veryy Town & Country!
14. Harold Ford Jr.
15. John Arnhold
16. Attorney Bob Barnett
17. Scalamandre president Steve Stolman, resplendent in his summer reds and blue blazer, with digital media expert Jack Bochonok. Rumor has it this year’s Hampton Designer Showhouse, which kicks off on the 21rst of this month with a gala preview to benefit Southampton Hospital, will be decked out in Scalamandre’s sumptuous fabrics this year.
18. EMI’s Charles Koppelman
21. Quest’s Chris Meigher
22. Banker and Paris Review publisher Antonio Weiss
23. Bingham & McCutchen’s Joel Moser
24. NTM’s Ken Miller
25. Morgan Gunter
26. Debra Kenny of Harlem Village Academy
27. Sol Kerzner
28. Marigo Mihalos, who made the jump from Hollywoodlife.com to the producer’s chair at The Wendy Williams Show. Well done!
29. Liliana Cavendish
Faces in the crowd: Marketing guru and political commentator Robert Zimmerman… My sister-in-law Missy Clehane and a squadron of pals in for a girls’ day of summer fun in the city. See you next week!
Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.