People may ditch its weekly print edition as its new owners look to cut costs — despite private complaints from writers that the magazine’s new editor doesn’t look like a good fit for the celebrity gossip icon, The Washington Post has learned
People magazine staff — the 48-year-old regular at grocery checkouts, beauty salons and doctors’ offices, best known for its “Sexiest Men” cover — are gearing up for the magazine’s launch — only after Dotdash Meredith, a division of IAC owned by billionaire Barry Diller, shuts down a string of print publicationssaid a source close to the situation.
These include Entertainment Weekly and the sleek, sleek InStyle, which used to be lucrative and ad-rich. Meanwhile, people are still facing beheadings despite claiming to be the largest readership of any U.S. magazine for nearly a decade before ceding the title to AARP in 2018.
“I think it’s over,” a well-informed source said of People’s Weekly. The source added that executives are considering monthly or quarterly publications, as well as special subject issues with much higher cover prices.
The Post also learned that DotDash Meredith executives have quietly reduced People’s circulation from 3.4 million to 2.5 million, and the number of pages per magazine has also been reduced by about eight pages. An insider explained that the cut subscriptions were free or low-cost subscriptions that did not justify the price of the mailing issue.
A Dotdash Meredith spokesperson said: “In addition to the 3.4 to 2.5 million page base change in People magazine – shared with advertisers in April this year – and the temporary change in total page count due to international paper shortages, The claims and figures provided by an unnamed source for this story are completely false.
“People magazine will continue to be published weekly, as it has done for nearly 50 years, and benefit from our continued significant investment in the People brand and products,” the spokesperson added.
While discussions about the frequency change are shifting and no decision has been made, insiders fear the People’s editorial board is in disarray under its new editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello, replacing Dan Wakeford in the reorganization in February. Vaccariello, who has held key positions at Real Simple, Parents, Reader’s Digest and Every Day with Rachael Ray, has filled the magazine with “soft stories,” a source said.
“The new editor had no idea what she was doing. Staff at editorial meetings texted each other and rolled their eyes as she spoke,” the source added.
“Liz is a very talented editor, but she’s not an entertainment editor,” said another insider, explaining that Vaccariello has no entertainment “contacts” or a sense of celebrity newsmagazine sales.
“She doesn’t know who Channing Tatum is!” the source said.
Insiders cite a recent incident in which People staff pushed to have Jada Pinkett-Smith on the cover of the magazine after her husband Will Smith slaps comedian Chris Rock Rock’s joke about her hair loss on stage at the Oscars.
The incident shocked the entertainment industry and made global headlines, but Vaccarillo rejected it, opting instead to keep in touch with Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin Current cover star Bindi Irving.
The issue is currently on newsstands, and while it’s too early to see how it will sell, the Post understands the number of people’s newsstands has dropped dramatically since Wakeford was sacked in February.
Sources told The Washington Post that under Wakeford’s leadership, People magazine sold more than 200,000 copies a week on newsstands. Newsstand sales have been uneven since then, with sales of the Prince Harry cover dropping to around 160,000 on May 2 and between 125,000 and 150,000 for the Lizzo cover on March 14, said to be the worst A half century history of one of the sales problems.
But a person familiar with the matter countered that Vaccarillo also had some of the year’s best-selling issues, pointing to the April 11 cover of Will Smith and the April 18 cover of Bruce Willis, both of which sold more than 220,000 copies.
It is said that people can still “profit” from knowledgeable sources, but IAC executives are still taking aggressive steps to cut costs. Insiders say the litany of issues they are now focusing on has nothing to do with the editorial change at People’s Daily Online. These include falling advertising revenue and circulation, rising postage rates and paper shortages.
“The people at IAC are not nice. Barry Diller is bad,” said a source, noting that the new owners “don’t understand” print magazines, they just want to “make money.”
The company also Shut down PeopleTV, a glossy broadcast TV showas The Post exclusively reported.
There is a jarring conflict between the corporate cultures of Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith, and Diller IAC, headquartered in New York’s trendy meatpacking district, the sources added.
“The Meredith people showed up at the Crocs meeting. They had wicker furniture in their office,” the source said. “You can’t see Barry Diller’s Frank Gehry-designed spaceships in Crocs. The IAC is like ‘The Matrix.’ There’s no furniture and people in Prada will greet you.”
During the pandemic, people’s ad revenue has halved, according to people familiar with the matter. Print advertising has slipped to about $125 million a year, with digital advertising bringing in another $125 million, sources said.
Nonetheless, according to People’s Daily Online media kit, The brand has 118 million consumers across print, digital and social media.
As some publishing and marketing executives left the company after DotDash took the helm, employees began discussing People’s potential demise. They include People Group publisher Kerry Witmer and People magazine publisher Ceci Ryan, both focused on selling print and digital advertising.
Their departure suggested to many that Dotdash may be following a People script similar to other Meredith publications. Earlier this year, The company canceled the print edition Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, EatingWell, Health, Parents and People en Español.
then, Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel tells staff The move will help transform the publication into a purely digital brand. He also said the move would result in about 200 job cuts.
“We’ve said from the beginning that Meredith is buying a brand, not a magazine or a website,” Vogel said in his note. “The apparent shift in readers and advertising from print to digital is not news to anyone, so for some important brands, print is no longer a core purpose of the brand.”
The pullback in print readers and advertising is more pronounced than ever during the pandemic. Oprah’s O Magazine goes out of print in 2020 and women’s magazines Marie Claire wraps up its print run 27 years later in 2021.
Over the past three years, Hearst has reduced the frequency of magazines like Elle and Cosmopolitan, while Condé Nast has reduced the frequency of fashion magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair amid declining readership and advertising revenue .
Vogel said in February that his company would invest in its remaining 19 print magazines — including People, Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living — by improving paper quality and downsizing.
But media tactics have changed quickly, with critics whispering that the acquisition of Meredith by IAC, a company best known for digital brands, could spell its bright future.
“Barry Diller bought Meredith to sell it,” a well-informed source said. “He always makes them [the brands] More lean and profitable, then he resells. “