People may scrap its weekly print edition as its new owner looks to slash costs — even as writers privately gripe that the magazine’s new editor looks to be an awkward fit for the celebrity-gossip icon, The Post has learned
Staffers at People — a 48-year-old fixture in grocery checkout lines, beauty salons and doctor’s offices known for its “Sexiest Man Alive” cover — are bracing for the magazine to go online-only after Dotdash Meredith, a unit of billionaire Barry Diller’s IAC, shuttered a slew of print publications, sources close to the situation said.
Those include Entertainment Weekly and the fashion glossy InStyle, which once oozed profit and was thick with advertising pages. People, meanwhile, faces getting the ax despite claiming the largest audience of any US magazine for nearly a decade until 2018, when it surrendered the title to AARP.
“I think it’s a goner,” one well-placed source said of People’s weekly edition. The source added that execs are instead mulling monthly or quarterly editions, as well as special-themed issues which carry a much higher cover price.
The Post has also learned that DotDash Meredith execs quietly cut People’s circulation from 3.4 million to 2.5 million, as well as the number of pages per magazine by about eight. One insider explained that the subs that were cut are free or low cost subscriptions that do not justify the price of mailing the issues out.
Dotdash Meredith spokesperson said: “Outside of People magazine’s rate base change of 3.4 to 2.5 million — which was shared with advertisers in April of this year — and a temporary change to total pages due to the international paper shortage, the claims and numbers provided by an unnamed source for this story are completely false.
“People magazine will continue to publish weekly, as it has for nearly 50 years, and benefit from the significant investments we continue to make in People’s brand and products,” the spokesperson added.
While talks of changes in frequency are in flux and a decision has not been made, insiders fret that People’s editorial offices are in disarray under the magazine’s new editor in chief Liz Vaccariello, who replaced Dan Wakeford amid a February reorganization. Vaccariello, who held top jobs at Real Simple, Parents, Reader’s Digest and Every Day with Rachael Ray, is filling the magazine with “soft stories,” a source said.
“The new editor doesn’t know what she’s doing. Staff in the editorial meetings are texting each other and rolling their eyes when she talks,” the source added.
“Liz is a very talented editor but she’s not an entertainment editor,” said another insider, who explained that Vaccariello doesn’t have entertainment “contacts” or a sense of what sells celebrity news magazines.
“She didn’t know who Channing Tatum was!” said the source.
Insiders cited a recent incident in which People staffers pushed to get Jada Pinkett-Smith for a recent cover of the magazine after her husband Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock onstage at the Academy Awards over Rock’s joke about her alopecia.
The incident rocked the entertainment industry and grabbed headlines worldwide, but Vaccariello shot it down and instead opted to stick with the current cover star, Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.
That issue is currently on newsstands, and while it is too early to see how it will sell, The Post has learned that People’s newsstand numbers have taken a nosedive since Wakeford was let go in February.
Sources told The Post that under Wakeford, People had been selling more than 200,000 copies at the newsstand a week. Since then, newsstand sales have been uneven, with a May 2 Prince Harry cover dipping to about 160,000 copies sold, and a March 14 Lizzo cover cratering to between 125,000- 150,000 copies sold, which is said to be one of the worst selling issues in People’s half-century history.
But a source with knowledge countered that Vaccariello has also some of this year’s best-selling issues, pointing to April 11’s Will Smith Cover and the April 18 Bruce Willis cover, both of which sold over 220,000 copies each.
People is said to still be “profitable” by sources with knowledge, but IAC executives have nevertheless been making aggressive moves to slash costs. Insiders said they are now focused on a litany of problems that have nothing to do with People’s editor change-up. Those include cratering advertising revenue and lower circulation, rising postage rates and a paper shortage.
“The IAC people are not nice. Barry Diller is not nice,” said a source, who noted that new ownership “doesn’t understand” print magazines, all they want to do is “make money.”
The company also closed PeopleTV, the glossy’s struggling broadcast TV show, as exclusively reported by The Post.
The source added that there has been a jarring clash between the corporate cultures of Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith and Diller’s IAC, which is headquartered in New York’s trendy Meatpacking District.
“The Meredith people show up to meetings in Crocs. Their offices have wicker furniture,” the source said. “You cannot turn up to Barry Diller’s Frank Gehry-designed spaceship in Crocs. IAC is like ‘The Matrix.’ There’s no furniture and you’re greeted by people wearing Prada.”
During the pandemic, People’s advertising revenue halved, according to a source with knowledge. The source said advertising has slumped to about $125 million a year in print with digital advertising bringing in another $125 million.
Nonetheless, according to People’s media kit, the brand has 118 million consumers across print, digital and social media.
Employees began buzzing about the potential demise of People when a handful of publishing and marketing execs left the company after DotDash took the helm. They included People group publisher Carery Witmer and People magazine publisher Cece Ryan, both of whom focused on selling print and digital advertising.
Their departures signaled to many that Dotdash may be following a similar playbook for People as it has with other Meredith publications. Earlier this year, the company killed the print editions of Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, EatingWell, Health, Parents and People en Español.
At the time, Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel told staff that the move would help turn the publications into digital-only brands. He also said the move would result in about 200 job cuts.
“We have said from the beginning, buying Meredith was about buying brands, not magazines or websites,” Vogel said in his note. “It is not news to anyone that there has been a pronounced shift in readership and advertising from print to digital, and as a result, for a few important brands, print is no longer serving the brand’s core purpose.”
During the pandemic, the pullback in print readership and advertising has been more pronounced than ever. Oprah’s O Magazine stopped printing in 2020 and women’s magazine Marie Claire ended its print run after 27 years in 2021.
In the last three years, Hearst has reduced the frequencies of magazines like Elle and Cosmopolitan while Condé Nast has lowered the frequencies of glossies Vogue and Vanity Fair amid declines in readership and ad revenue.
Vogel said in February that his company would invest in its 19 remaining print magazines — which include People, Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living — by enhancing paper quality and trimming sizes.
But strategies change quickly in media and critics have whispered that the acquisition of Meredith by IAC, a company known for its digital brands, likely spelled doom for its glossies down the line.
“Barry Diller bought Meredith to sell it,” said one well-placed source. “He always makes them [the brands] more lean and profitable, then he resells it.”
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