The not-so-glossy future of magazines

One evening in mid-September, a gaggle of writers and bon vivant editors gathered by the outdoor fireplace and ivy-covered trellis of a West Village tavern. This night, however, had an elegiac tinge. The staff of Vanity Fair was saluting the magazine’s longtime editor, Graydon Carter, who had announced that he was departing after a 25-year run. In the back garden of Mr. Carter’s restaurant, the Waverly Inn, star writers like James Wolcott and Marie Brenner spoke of their gratitude and grief.

Mr. Carter has always had a knack for trends. Within two weeks, three other prominent editors — from TimeElle, and Glamour — announced that they, too, would be stepping down. Another titan of the industry, Jann S. Wenner, said he planned to sell his controlling stake in Rolling Stone after a half-century.

Suddenly, it seemed, longstanding predictions about the collapse of magazines had come to pass.

Magazines have sputtered for years, their monopoly on readers and advertising erased by Facebook, Google and more nimble online competitors. But editors and executives said the abrupt churn in the senior leadership ranks signaled that the romance of the business was now yielding to financial realities.

As publishers grasp for new revenue streams, a ‘‘try-anything’’ approach has taken hold. Time Inc. has a new streaming TV show, “Paws & Claws,” that features viral videos of animals. Hearst started a magazine with the online rental service Airbnb. Increasingly, the longtime core of the business — the print product — is an afterthought, overshadowed by investments in live events, podcasts, video, and partnerships with outside brands.

“Sentimentality is probably the biggest enemy for the magazine business,” David Carey, the president of Hearst Magazines, said in an interview. “You have to embrace the future.”

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