End of a short era: Portfolio

Sorry as I am to see Portfolio magazine shutter (also, see AdAge.com, NYTimes.com), it’s not hard to understand why such a major launch failed in the current environment. As I’ve said before on this blog, this is the worst time ever to launch a magazine — except for all of the other times.

The magazine’s focus was great story telling about the titans of finance and industry. Unfortunately, the advertisers who want to reach readers of such story-telling are all hiding in holes. And being a rich Wall Street titan of finance and industry is so, well, 90s.

Despite the all-star team on the editorial and publishing sides of the venture, there are certain forces in nature — is the market nature? — one cannot overcome.

Without a doubt, some of the best long-form writing of the past two years on the topic of business has come from Portfolio writers. Great design and photography, also. Lush, Condé Nast stuff.

That said, I believe it was the “business model” of Portfolio that failed, not the magazine format.

It is hard to believe there will ever again be a magazine launched with Condé Nast-sized overhead intended for a consumer-oriented general business (not vertical trade or niche focus) audience that is distributed nationally and depends on the traditional advertising/circulation/print-centric business model.

Ironically, another business-focused Condé Nast brand, Wired, proves that a niche focus print/online business model does work. Its focus and readership are tech-savvy and geekish. Yet it keeps improving with time — both online and in print.

Lesson: mass market, general audience: FAIL.

Vintage RexBlog posts: Flickr set of first issue.

  • The ironic thing to me is that even way back in the early ’90s, when I occasionally freelanced for Wired, it was obvious that they aspired to become THE next-generation business magazine, not just a more sophisticated, upscale computer trade pub. And the addition of a bunch of my former editors from The Industry Standard (after that mag shut down in 2001) only reinforced those aspirations and their ability to reach them.

    So, just as you say, while Portfolio always seemed like a business plan (maybe a 1985 business plan?) in search of an audience, I think Conde Nast already had the next great business magazine in their stable. And some of Wired’s recent stories, like Felix Salmon’s piece explaining part of the subprime lending debacle, stand up to anything any other outlet is producing.