Coffee table magazines for high rollers come up snake eyes

Doubledown Media, the publisher of magazines targeted to slick go-getter types, is shutting down. Last year, it lost $3 million, and it just can't keep losing, so it's stopping the presses. As any Vegas gambler will tell you, that happens sometimes when you double down.

So say farewell to the following titles: Trader Monthly, Dealmaker, Private Air, Corporate Leader, and the Cigar Report. Without cocky Wall Street types to flaunt them around, they're kaput.

Those sound like the kind of magazines that Gordon Gecko might tote as he struts toward his chopper, but they're not the only snob-appeal publications that are facing the cold reality of a readership that's falling in love again with savings.

Conde Nast, the tony publisher of prototypical glossies that has been long known for its excess, is shrinking. Its titles Cargo, Men's Vogue, Domino, and Vitals have already been taken off the presses, and many of its other titles aimed at the investor/trend-chasing market, like Portfolio, are enduring emergency cuts and a reduction in issues. Magazines designed to appeal to the design-conscious, summer-house set, like Country Home and Cottage Living, have also fallen recently. Allure is rumored to be next to go.

This month, even the venerable Vanity Fair is re-using a cover photo of Barack Obama that ran on the cover less than two years ago. On this go-round, actor Don Cheadle has been deleted from the original image. (Poor Don Cheadle. From Hotel Rwanda to Hotel for Dogs, and now this. It's not right.) Considering the magazine reportedly pays Annie Liebovitz $2 million a year for her photographic portraits, recycling old pictures must represent some much-needed savings.

Even the fictional fancy magazines are on bubble. ABC's Ugly Betty, the wacky comedy that's set at the high-glam New York fashion magazine named Mode, has been placed on a indefinite hiatus from its prime Thursday night time slot. Just two years ago, it was the toast of television, and it's still winning awards, but no matter. These days, the audience's tastes are as capricious as Anna Wintour's--who herself is rumored to be on the verge of getting axed from her perch atop the masthead at Vogue.

There are always going to be rich people, so there will always be media that caters to them. But the publications that dangle the upper-class carrot in front of people who are still working toward a fortune are not doing so well. These "wish books," as I like to call them, can only survive as long as there's a giant market of upwardly mobile people to buy them, and companies that can afford to advertise in them.

Notice that all of Doubledown's now-defunct magazines have names that seem to say more about the naked aspirations of the buyer than they do about the contents. "I'm a leader!" says the guy who bought Corporate Leader. Yeah, buddy, these days, I'd hide that. May I suggest reading it from behind a copy of Consumer Reports or Good Housekeeping? Or maybe something like Hot Shot Banker might rename itself Hot Piggy Banker.

Bottom line: Get ready to say goodbye to any magazine that you buy simply because it looks good on your coffee table.
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