The secret of Condé Nast’s success

Edie Campbell, Nicholas Coleridge and Olympia Campbell.

At the start of the summer I had a baffling conversation with Condé Nast’s managing director, Nicholas Coleridge. The esteemed leader, and former chairman of industry body PPA, fixed me with his trademark grin before assuring me that magazines were in unbelievably rude health. 

Moreover, he said: “I never would have imagined 20 years ago that magazines would be selling so many copies as they’re selling now.”

But what about the perennial double-digit falls in copy sales, I asked, and the loss of print advertising to online? And what of the erosion of the industry’s share of total media spend to rivals old and new?

Simply not true, according to Coleridge, he’d only accept that magazines have “had a wobble” for a couple of years as the downturn hit, but certainly nothing more seismic or structural than that.

His comments seemed to defy all recent trends and forecasts. I thought back to the consolidation taking place among publishers and printers alike, the hundreds of magazine closures tracked over the past three years alone – and all the studies that suggest younger readers were migrating away from print.

Coleridge remained defiantly upbeat and I was forced to put the encounter down to ambassadorial exuberance, until last month, when things became altogether clearer.

In reports filed at Companies House, Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue and GQ, revealed it had not only weathered the troubles of 2011, but carved out 5.2% growth in turnover to £117.9 million, and a 14% lifts in pre-tax profits, to £17.3 million.

Its wider European operation, Condé Nast International, also based in London, performed even better, with pre-tax profits up 25% to £43.5 million.

It appears both luxury advertisers and affluent consumers have largely survived the current downturn intact. In addition, the 103 year old media company appears to be successfully offsetting any slight losses in print sales with the introduction of copy sales from digital tablet editions, and significant growth in online spend.

For the best part of three years, Jamie Jouning, the former publisher of Wired UK turned digital director of Conde Nast, has played a key role in this transition.

He told me the lions share of the company’s new digital revenues can be attributed to advertising. It has not happened overnight, or by accident. You can read my interview with Jouning about the transition currently taking place at Condé Nast here.

Closer cooperation and understanding across the group is credited with luring luxury advertisers to the web, and much of the innovation has been driven directly and indirectly by the arrival of Apple’s iPad.

However, for all the recent investment online, Jouning stresses:The print guys are doing incredibly well still. These are interesting times in publishing but certainly in our print experience it’s been business as usual.

“We are very fortunate, we have some fantastic brands and people still believe in those brands, so we provide the very best in photography and journalism and design, so fortunately we are able to continue to charge our premiums.”

So, as clichéd as it is, the secret of Condé Nast’s success turns out to be nurturing relevant, strong brands, across multimedia platforms. No wonder Coleridge continues to smile.