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Monday, June 01, 2015

Vanity Fair is Finally Thinking Like a Startup

Graydon Carter has a giant mission statement on his office wall saying that the 100-year old magazine should "Think Like A Startup." This is a good idea as print continues to languish, and everyone in legacy media -- including Time Inc. -- is pivoting, increasingly, towards digital. But it hasn't always been that way for the Conde Nast flagship.

Vanity Fair has a strong brand reputation as being the chronicle of record of Old Hollywood glamour. And that brand reputation has served them well over the years, especially when it comes to their ultra-exclusive Oscar party and the photographs that accompany that annual soiree. Jennifer Senior wrote in New York of Carter and his influence at Vanity Fair in 2000:

It occurs to me at this point that it's been easier to chat up Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck than Graydon Carter. The power he wields here is palpable. In Hollywood, says Bryan Lourd, a partner at CAA, "everyone is always courting Carter to some degree." Back in March, when the Internet was still blooming with cash and possibilities, Brian Grazer, co-founder of Imagine Entertainment, tried to lure him out to run, his Internet venture with DreamWorks and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. "You're the king of New York!" he gushed at the time. "You're like the pretty girl in high school that everyone wants!"

The pendulum swings. Fifteen years later, how much "buzz" can Old Hollywood have in this age of Buzzed and Vox? Photographs of Liz and Dick and Marilyn and Audrey can only get a publication -- print or digital -- just so far in an age of low attention spans and 24/7 media and cultural coverage. In the past few years Vanity Fair's print and digital presence comes off as curated by the old times set.

Vanity Fair is very well perched, however, to leverage its brand reputation. And it did, magnificently, with the Caitlyn Jenner cover. Aside from Old Hollywood glamour, Vanity Fair represents a sort of left-libertarianism suffused with "access" to the A-List that perfectly dovetails in their sympathetic advocacy for Caitlyn Jenner, who stands, proudly, at the axis of both Hollywood and libertarianism.

Let us hope that Vanity Fair will be pivoting further in this direction. People Magazine, another venerable media brand in the throes of its own digital pivot, might look to this smart editorial decision as perhaps a pathway to greater digital relevance.

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