Remaining Condé Nast Perks Dry Up as Budgets Stretched ‘Globally’

Even the smaller perks of working at Condé Nast have vanished as the publisher continues to reduce costs and shift its content strategy to a “global” one.

In the past 18 months, Condé staffers have found that they no longer have free entry to New York cultural institutions, like the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim and even the Metropolitan Museum of Art, WWD has learned. 

Corporate subscriptions to each were allowed to lapse as the publisher with a storied past of lavish expense accounts and numerous perks continues to take a much closer look at what it’s spending money on and where. However, The Whitney Museum of American Art is one left where a Condé ID card will still get you past the $22 admission fee.

A representative of the company declined to comment.

The end of free museum entry is just the latest addition to a long list of now former perks of working at Condé, which under the leadership era of the late S.I. Newhouse Jr. wanted its editors to be mixing with the same cultural figures its magazines covered. Town cars were frequently called — or kept permanently idling outside headquarters — even for assistants. Certain editors were given generous clothing allowances and many even received interest-free loans to aid in the purchase of homes and property. There was a pension plan for many years. Staffers were often able to expense their desk lunches. 

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For a long time, such niceties were seen as making low wages for junior staffers worth it. But it’s all in the past, with belt tightening happening in earnest at Condé (and everywhere else in media) for several years now, as the publisher is still struggling to find steady profitability amid the long goodbye of print advertising. The company still pulls in revenue around $1 billion a year, but has operated at a loss at least since 2017, as WWD has reported. It lost about $100 million in 2019, according to a New York Times report last year.

The profitability struggle continues under Roger Lynch, who joined the company in 2019 as chief executive officer, the first Condé CEO not to come from an internal promotion. In three years with Condé, Lynch has slowly connected the international and U.S. halves of the business, particularly back-end functions and tech, eliminating hundreds of jobs in the process, including some executives, and reducing overhead costs. Editorial has been affected as well, with dozens of jobs at various titles cut year after year, allegedly with little to no severance. And there are still rumors that more print publications will go digital-only, at some point, like Allure, which has been thin on print advertising for some time.     

Some recent moves to reduce costs include declining to pay full rent, as Condé attempts to renegotiate the terms of its lease at its New York headquarters within One World Trade Center, according to a report in Bloomberg. Condé has been reducing its floor space at the building and subleasing where it can for at least two years. Another is the centralization of all editorial teams at each title, international and U.S., accelerated late last year, which also has the effect of further limiting budgets available per book. 

Staffers at Vogue, Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest and GQ are expecting at least moderate cuts to their ranks, likely focused on international offices, as those titles have been put under new editorial leaders overseeing all regions, many based in the U.S., by far Condé’s most revenue-generating region. Content sharing among all editions will be more prevalent than ever, likely leading to overlapping roles. In a year-end memo to staff, Lynch said the company is looking to “amplify the best versions of stories across all markets, which will expand IP opportunities.” 

He added that the company is working to “clearly identify where and how we will grow our audience and map our teams accordingly. Specific plans of global action for each title are currently being developed.

Although it’s said that Anna Wintour, who has received two new leadership titles under Lynch and is now Condé’s chief content officer, has not given a numerical mandate on cost reductions to any of the new “global” editorial heads, any redundancies are expected to be eliminated. And budgets are still tight and required to stretch further than ever, sources have noted, given the new degree of content sharing.

Additionally, any remaining curtain — be it between regions, print and digital, social and video, editorial and sponsored content or e-commerce — is said to be coming down entirely. In his staff memo, Lynch said the breaking down of these “silos” will allow “greater focus and collaboration.” And a major push for video and social content, purportedly in order to satisfy advertiser demand, is said to be sucking up budget money that would previously have gone into written content or magazine production. Many other publishers in the last several years  pushed forward with a “pivot to video,” but as costs rose and algorithms changed, such investments were largely abandoned. There is executive talk at Condé of 25 percent of revenue being “reinvested” in “content,” but over the next four years. And the money is expected to be heavily tilted toward video. 

All of this change, Lynch said in his memo, will result in “double digit” revenue growth in 2021. But profitability is not yet certain, sources noted, or likely. 

Lynch has made no secret of his view that video is the way forward for Condé, telling staff in 2019 that advertising and content deals derived from it have the potential to be a new $1 billion revenue stream. He’s said to be uninterested in further paywalls or subscription models. An earlier plan to develop them across Condé Nast, called a “game changer,” has been abandoned, despite the success of digital subscriptions at The New Yorker, which now brings in well over $100 million annually. He’s also thought by many at Condé to not be much interested in magazine media in general, seen as more of a “dispassionate” executive, albeit one who has managed to save Condé a lot of money so far.

Between the “global” directives and the shifting budgets, staff morale is said to be rather low at Condé. Although, in the face of an ongoing pandemic and a year of record layoffs industry-wide, that seems to be the case for many workers at just about any other media institution.

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