Is this the end of celebrity-driven titles? Has New York finally fallen out of love with Tina Brown? Are top-end fashion, travel and luxury goods advertising budgets really in that bad a shape? (Brown certainly seems to think so, blaming Talk's demise on a sudden decline in advertising revenues post-11 September.) To which the answers are: no; probably; and not necessarily.
When Talk launched, a golden future looked assured. The combination of Brown, plus the sprinkling of
Hollywood magic dust courtesy of the tie-up with Miramax, seemed unbeatable, a unique fusion of West Coast celebrity and East Coast hipness that was so of its time. This was August 1999, you recall, a period we can now see as the very zenith of the dotcom boom. Of course, Talk had nothing to do with the dotcoms, but they infected the mood to the extent that even the most level-headed
individuals would take outlandish risks. As one economist dubbed it, this was a time of "irrational exuberance" -- a phrase which perfectly sums up the zeitgeist. It was this "anything can happen" feeling that probably caused many people to swallow their initial doubts about Talk, perhaps even its backers.
Certainly I blame the mood of the time for an editorial proposition that looked flawed from day one and which, in the end, may have been the root cause of the
title's closure. On the half-dozen times I read Talk from cover to cover, I never felt less than irritated and disappointed by its combination of high seriousness and low celebrity worship. It was as if Hello! had suddenly decided it had to be serious too and bolted on long, wordy features about the auteur theory of film-making. Even Talk's coverage of celebrities was schizoid, with it seemingly unable to make up its mind whether it was an upscale Vanity Fair or the more mass-market People.
Perhaps none of this would have mattered if it hadn't been for the collapse of the US advertising economy (a process well underway before September 11), which meant that Talk's editorial flaws could no longer be glossed over. When the going gets tough, just as investors pile into gold and the US dollar at times of economic turbulence, so advertisers flock to safe havens of established titles with clear propositions.
And that's the simple lesson that Talk holds for publishers. It's got nothing to do with celebrity publishing per se, Tina Brown or luxury advertisers, and everything to do with having a clear proposition. And if you want an example of a title that got it right with readers and advertisers, arguably from a significantly less promising position in terms of timing, look no further than Glamour.
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