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Conde Nast Catches Spy Magazine's Eye

July 22, 1994|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday

As Spy magazine rises from the grave with a summer issue that reprises some of its greatest hits about Hollywood, the New York Times and other media institutions, it also features a new mediacentric department, "Magazine Heaven," to chronicle the fab, clubby and ruthless ways of New York's mag industry.

Spy starts with four pages about Conde Nast. And is it any wonder? Conde Nast Publications Inc.--which publishes Vanity Fair, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Details, Vogue, Self, GQ and six other books--continues to be the turbulent glamorland of magazines, a Madison Avenue kingdom where princes and princesses (editors and publishers) come and go at the bidding of the impetuous king (chairman), S.I. (Si) Newhouse Jr.

Toss in the New Yorker, which Newhouse owns but publishes separately from the Conde Nast group, and among the lot there have been eight new publishers since January and six new editors since 1990. Media Industry Newsletter ran a score card this week.

In the insular corridors of magazine publishing, the more provocative Vanity Fair cover stories probably command less interest than the latest beheading or elevation at Conde Nast.

In last week's episode, Alexandra Penney, editor in chief of Self since 1989, was leaving the beauty and fitness magazine for a newly created upstairs job in "media development." In this week's episode, Penney is staying at Self after all.

"A lady can change her mind," she says. "I thought, why not make a challenge out of keeping something that is already on top and making it bigger and more successful."

Considering Penney's job had been offered to--and rejected by--at least one other colleague, her curious about-face only accelerated the well-oiled gossip machine. What did it all mean? Had Alexander Liberman, who recently stepped down as Conde Nast editorial director after three decades, somehow reversed what may have been the first major decision made by his young successor, James Truman?

And is it true, palace courtiers (and ink-smudged outsiders) asked with interest, that the enigmatic Anna Wintour is leaving as editor in chief of Vogue for a Conde Nast post in Europe?

"It is not, will not, nor will it ever be true," says Paul Wilmot, Conde Nast's director of corporate public relations. "She's staying in her role, as far as we know, forever."

"It's just gotten to the point of being crazy," says Roberta Garfinkle, vice president and director of print media at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency. "The readers, with few exceptions, probably have no idea who the editors are at any of these magazines. We in the business are the only ones who care--and we're starting to care less."

However, only media pundits might disagree that the palace intrigue at Conde Nast is a fascinating, if bizarre element of the country's third-largest magazine group. Conde Nast last year took in an estimated $661.3 million in ad revenue, a 13.7% increase over the 1992 haul. Moreover, despite the upheavals in management and the profitability of only a few of the Conde Nast magazines, they continue to exceed the circulation numbers guaranteed to advertisers.

The Conde Nast universe will be explored in an upcoming unauthorized biography of Newhouse written by Thomas Maier, a reporter with Newsday, and in a second such bio being prepared by Carol Felsenthal, author of "Power, Privilege and the Post," the unauthorized story of Washington Post owner Katharine Graham.

"How could we not be interested?" Spy Editor James Mauro says. "There's so much stuff there. All we have to do is collect it."

High Yield: Stephen W. Frey's big score of recent days would prompt many mortals to ease off, maybe head to the beach for a month or two, but the vice president of corporate finance at Westdeutsche Landesbank in New York says he will definitely keep his day job.

A year and a half after Frey started scratching out a story about a sinister corporate takeover, the 34-year-old money man has obtained a contract for this first novel and a second book from Dutton/Signet, which pre-empted a planned auction by offering what the publisher calls "a substantial six-figure" amount.

Afterward, Mace Neufeld and Bob Rehme, who produced the upcoming film of Tom Clancy's "A Clear and Present Danger," nailed down screen rights to Frey's "The Takeover" for a sum in the mid-six figures.

Sounding a bit bewildered after his impressive dive into the book biz, Frey says his thriller draws on lessons he learned while working in mergers and acquisitions at J. P. Morgan & Co. In the story, a mergers-and-acquisitions expert discovers a takeover is driven by a group of right-wing Republicans who are bent on bringing down a Democratic administration.

Dutton plans to publish "The Takeover" in the fall of 1995. Frey was represented by Cynthia Manson.

On the Racks: "Reading Rainbow"--the PBS television series that presents good books to young readers--has rounded up 101 of the titles featured on the show in the new "Reading Rainbow Guide to Children's Books," published by Citadel Press. The trade paperback also presents an off-camera look at the broadcast, which is hosted by actor LeVar Burton.

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