Pulp Friction

Time was, Hollywood had two “trades” that covered all things entertainment. Now it has has four, and the competition for news, ads, and readers is down and dirty, 24 hours a day

THR certainly is spending money, using A-list photographers to shoot its covers and making scores of high-level hires since being bought by Guggenheim Partners in 2010. The person making those hires is Janice Min, who previously was best known for shaping Us Weekly into a financially successful bulletin of everything-you-didn’t-really-need-to-know about celebrities (“They’re just like us!”). Petite, driven, and fashion savvy, she says that when she first began reading THR’s back issues, she had to tape her eyes open to get through them. “No one had been reporting on Hollywood lifestyle,” Min tells me about the old trades. “It felt like low-hanging fruit: America’s most exciting industry being covered in the least interesting way by the world’s worst media.”

If Finke has an uncanny ability to capitalize on Hollywood’s intrinsic paranoia and jealousy, then Min has shown equal brilliance in exploiting showbiz vanity. The way she sees it, the old trades were so out of touch that they never connected the dots: The money that industry people were making was being spent on oversize mansions, expensive cars, and lavish vacations. Upon her arrival, Min figured that showbiz folk—being competitive and narcissistic—wouldn’t want to keep all that wealth a secret. She was right. Almost from the moment she accepted the job, the same power brokers who whispered scoops in Finke’s ears began lining up to pose for glamorous photo spreads in THR.

Min’s magazine vacillates wildly between serious reporting and what might be called showbiz porn. A September issue featured news about Warner Bros.’ J.K. Rowling deal and an arresting commentary by filmmaker John Singleton on whether a white director could make a great black movie. But a few pages away was a feature titled “Armored Cars of the Stars” along with a story headlined “This Is What a $700,000 TV Looks Like.” “Consumption is embraced by the culture here, much more than in New York, where CEOs actually ride the subway,” Min says. “It felt like a no-brainer: Let’s do a magazine that not only Hollywood executives would obsess over but so would their wives and friends.”

If THR ever turns a profit, much of the credit will go to publisher Segall, who makes the cutthroat closers in Glengarry Glen Ross look like schlubby amateurs. Having spent decades in the trenches, with two stints at THR bracketing stops at the L.A. Times and Deadline, Segall has a wizardly knack for conjuring ad dollars from Hollywood as well as from the luxury brands that increasingly peddle their wares in THR’s pages.

To hear her tell it, when she was at Deadline Penske was so consumed by Min’s new baby that he would snatch every issue of the magazine out of Segall’s hands. “Jay is very smart,” she said to me over lunch, before offering a backhanded compliment. “He must realize he has a magazine being edited by newspeople, while the Reporter is being edited by a real magazine editor.” (I must say, Segall handled our interview with masterful aplomb—staying on message until after lunch, when we were standing outside waiting for our cars. Only then did she lose her cool. Seeing her BMW idling in the back of the valet line, she stepped off the curb and began waving impatiently. “Will you hurry the fuck up?! ” she hollered.)

THR has seen a recent uptick in ads for Armani, Valentino, and Jimmy Choo; Gucci sponsored its online Emmy photo galleries this year. But even though Segall boasts that the magazine is “on track” to make a profit, with its advertising income up nearly 22 percent over last year, Hollywood marketers, having seen other shiny magazines come and go, are skeptical of its long-term prospects.

THR’s circulation is at 72,000, though paid print and digital subscriptions represent barely half that number. As Penske’s corporate PR chief, Lauren Gullion, scoffs, “It’s clear that the nail salons are getting their free copies of THR.” Segall isn’t fazed by such sniping. She says that when Guggenheim Partners, THR’s parent company, was considering buying Variety, the magazine’s top brass said it would be smarter to pour that cash into the publication they already own. And so they did. “Guggenheim’s not stupid,” Segall told me. “They wouldn’t be investing more money in us if they didn’t think we’d be profitable.”

In terms of print advertising, Variety appears to have the lead in overall revenues. Variety insiders say the magazine’s ad income is up 16 percent from last year. They also contend that it has sold 10 percent more advertising pages in 2013 than THR, although that number includes the first part of the year, when Variety was still a five-day-a-week publication. But Variety’s magazine is costlier to produce, with its heavier paper stock and more expensive binding method.

The trades also have sizable revenues from ancillary businesses. THR brings in $3 million a year in sponsorship deals such as its annual Women in Entertainment breakfast, on which it partnered with the likes of Audi and Gucci. The Wrap has TheGrill: Media Leadership Conference, which attracted a crowd of 250 people in September (some paid as much as $2,195 to hear speakers like ESPN chief John Skipper). Variety hosts similar conferences, such as its Sports Entertainment Summit while also deriving income from a data research business and Variety 411, which tracks below-the-line film and TV talent.

This feature appears in the December 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine on newsstands now