Business mag claims to be biggest launch in US mag history

Despite all the skeptics who say there are enough business magazines on the news-stands already – from Business Week to Fortune and Forbes – Conde Nast is pushing ahead in the US with its plan for a new-style business publication.

It's called Portfolio and plans, like other Conde Nast publications, to report the more glamorous side of business, along the lines of Vanity Fair, Vogue and the New Yorker.

Portfolio is going against the tide. In the past two years numerous glossy magazines have folded. Business magazines have suffered more than most – notably Forbes, Business Week and Fast Company, all of whom have suffered big declines in advertising (as much as 13 per cent) so far this year.

Nevertheless Conde Nast – which has deep pockets – is reportedly committing between $100 and $125 million to the new venture. It's said to be the most expensive launch in American magazine history.

What's in the first issue that's different? Among the contributors are Tom Wolfe, writing about hedge fund big wigs (in keeping with the magazine's off-beat image he handed in his copy wearing a black cape over his traditional white suit), Michael Lewis on Tiger Woods and other highly paid sports celebrities, and a feature by Matt Cooper about his involvement and the ramifications of the recent Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial.

There is also a feature about Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum the ruler of Dubai, who aspires to be "King of Horse Racing" and whose biggest ambition is to win the Kentucky Derby. The launch issue has l50 pages of advertising. An editor at Media Week suggests that American advertisers are "hungry for a fresh new approach to a category that has become tired and fusty". In the 20 months since Conde Nast chairman Si Newhouse announced the plan for a new (and different) business magazine, the company has been on a major head-hunt, poaching byline names from lots of other publications. Top of the list: Joanne Lipman, former deputy managing editor the Wall Street Journal who is Portfolio's editor-in-chief. Altogether Portfolio claims to have recruited no less than 75 top names from such rivals as the NY Times, Vanity Fairand Time magazine.

One negative is that the second issue of Portfolio won't be out until September. This is deliberate, it's claimed.

Said a spokesman: "This way we can learn from newsstand sales, and we can change accordingly. It also give us a chance to see which sections work and which not."

Spurred on perhaps by the new competition, Fortune – which will soon celebrate it's 500th issue (Henry Luce undeterred by the sceptics of that age launched Fortune just a few months after the big Wall Street Crash of 1929) is planning its own redesign, while Forbes is talking of launching a new business magazine aimed specifically for women.

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