Conde Nast digital incubator hatches Santa’s Hideout

Conde Nast  just launched the latest product from its digital incubator in time for the holidays called “Santa’s Hideout.” The site is a free gift giving service aimed at children that lets parents set up a list for each child to fill while  also allowing parents to don their Santa beard. The items on the lists can be divvied up for Santa only as well as for family and friends.

Santa’s Hideout is using Amazon’s public API which is handling the e-commerce duties of shipping items on the list.

The site  is the second digital product launched from Conde Nast’s small research and development group which is overseen by Joe Simon, chief technology officer at Conde Nast. The first was something called Idea Flight, an iPad productivity app, that was released in June.

“The group is allowed to run in any direction,” explained Drew Schutte, chief integration officer at Conde Nast. “You never know how one technology will impact the rest of the company.”

Conde Nast is not alone in wading into tech waters. (It also acquired Reddit five years ago before spinning it out as a standalone company.) Hearst, for instance, launched App Lab at its magazine division and is behind the very nifty personal finance site  Manilla.

They’ll always be the Magazine Publishers of America to me

Vanity FairThe Magazine Publishers of America said on Friday that it is renaming itself the MPA — The Association of Magazine Media. The notable difference is the omission of the word publishers. Why?

“MPA is underscoring the fact that magazine media content engages consumers globally across multiple platforms, including websites, tablets, smartphones, books, live events and more.”

“More” presumably means “printed magazines,” but nobody in media is all that hot on associating themselves with words like “publish” and “print” because to young people (or young “consumers” in the parlance that people use when their sole desire is to make money from you) and investors those words smell like death.

A digital taste of Gourmet

Fans of Gourmet, wipe your tears away because Conde Nast is reviving the, errr, brand.  As Conde Nast consumer marketing group president Robert Sauerberg said this morning during a briefing for the resurrection: “We closed the magazine last fall. We did not close the brand.”

So if you want to get your mitts on Gourmet and its extensive archives go out and buy an iPad and wait until the fourth quarter. That is when Conde Nast will officially relaunch Gourmet, reincarnated as an app.

So far it pretty much mines the library for material. It’s doubtful that editoral staffers will rise Lazarus-like with it.

Conde Nast: Flushing brides, extra food

Your Reuters media writers got a little flushed on Monday morning when we saw that Conde Nast was going to close some magazines. Would we see The New Yorker and Vanity Fair pulped? No such luck for us vultures who were craving a big murder-in-the-first-degree story. This appears to be more of a mercy killing.

Instead, here’s what we get:

    Consolidation in the bridal business. No more Modern Bride, no more Elegant Bride. Instead, we get a monthly edition of Brides magazine, the kind of phonebook-sized tome that it seems will pay for itself. After all, people love to get married, and many these days like to do it twice. Calorie cutting in the food format: Gourmet magazine gets purged, while the brand lives on. Or, as Media Memo’s Peter Kafka put it, it survives “Zombie-like” on TV and the Internet. Bon Appetit survives, meanwhile. Speaking of food, no more Cookies. Cookie magazine, the “stylish parenting magazine for the new mom,” dies. So much for news-you-can-use stories like “Parents and pot: Do you think it’s okay to smoke weed at a play date?”

Stephanie Clifford of The New York Times got an interview with Conde Nast CEO Chuck Townsend, who gave her the details of how this is going down. Since we’re not sure if Chuck will have time for us today (we’re hoping the phone rings presently), here’s what he said:

None of the about 180 employees of the magazines, including the Gourmet editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl, are expected to stay with the company… The employees will receive severance packages this week and be out by the end of the week.

Tuesday media highlights

Here are some of the day’s top stories in the media industry:

U.S. business magazines face a shakeout (Reuters)
Robert MacMillan writes: “Business news publishers rubbed their hands in glee when the financial crisis grabbed headlines last fall, saying the meltdown would deliver a windfall blown in by widespread interest in their stories. It did not turn out that way. Appetite for news does not always translate into revenue, especially at a time when blogs, wire services such as Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters and other outlets crowd into news analysis territory that the big magazines had long claimed.”

McClatchy quarterly profit rises on cost cuts (Reuters)
“U.S. newspaper publisher McClatchy Co reported higher quarterly income on Tuesday because of cost cuts, pushing shares up as much as 67 percent, even as advertising revenue fell by nearly a third. McClatchy, publisher of The Miami Herald and Sacramento Bee, also said it reduced the amount of debt that it owes and sought to reassure investors that it will not violate the terms of its lending agreements,” reports Robert MacMillan.

Economist Group Buys Congressional Quarterly (WSJ)
Kevin Kingsbury writes: “The deal, terms of which weren’t disclosed, will create a new company called CQ-Roll Call Group. Roll Call is owned by the Economist Group, the London-based publisher of its namesake magazine. Roll Call is buying Congressional Quarterly from Times Publishing Co., whose primary operations is the St. Petersburg Times and related assets.”

from Summit Notebook:

SEC’s Schapiro says journalist job cuts worrying

Mary Schapiro, America's new top cop for the securities industry, said the current mass culling of journalists' jobs is a concern because it could reduce the number of leads that regulators get as they seek to crack down on nefarious behavior.

"It's an absolute worry for me because I think financial journalists have in many cases been the sources of some really important enforcement cases and really important discovery of practices and products that regulators should be profoundly concerned about," the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission told the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit in Washington on Tuesday.

"But for journalists having been dogged and determined and really pursuing some of these things, they might not be known to the regulators or they might not be known for a long time," she said.

Microsoft, Gates master the art of product placement

There is no better way to learn about the art of product placement than to learn from the masters. Today, that means Microsoft Corp and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which were the subject of articles about how they’re delivering their messages like little pills wrapped in the sugar coating of the entertainment you consume.

Ad Age:

Can Microsoft market its way out of the search basement? Probably not, but it’s going to try, entrusting [ad] agency JWT to craft a campaign for its new search engine, alternately dubbed Kumo or Project Kiev or Live Search, depending on who’s talking about it. … The service is being tested and is expected to make its debut in the summer. … Industry executives expect JWT, part of WPP, to unveil an estimated $80 million to $100 million push for the new search engine in June, with online, TV, print and radio executions. Microsoft spent $361 million on U.S. measured media in 2008, the bulk of it devoted to brand advertising and smaller chunks to other Microsoft brands such as Xbox and MSN, according to TNS Media Intelligence data.

The New York Times:

The huge [Gates] foundation, brimming with billions of dollars from Mr. Gates and Warren Buffett, is well known for its myriad projects around the world to promote health and education. It is less well known as a behind-the-scenes influencer of public attitudes toward these issues by helping to shape story lines and insert messages into popular entertainment like the television shows “ER,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Private Practice.” The foundation’s messages on H.I.V. prevention, surgical safety and the spread of infectious diseases have found their way into these shows.

Kellogg drops Phelps after photos

We won’t be tempted by puns. Or any sort of lame wordplay.  We’ll play this straight. Seriously. Here goes: After all the bad publicity caused by a photo of Michael Phelps apparently taking a bong hit, Kellogg has decided to dump the superswimmer.

Okay, now that’s out of the way. Here’s the basics from Reuters:

The world’s largest cereal maker said on Thursday it would not extend a contract with Phelps, who charmed audiences in Beijing last year with a record-breaking, eight-gold medal haul, saying the photo of the swimmer was inconsistent with its public image.

Phelps, estimated to make millions of dollars annually from marketing deals, issued an apology this week after a British newspaper published a photograph purportedly showing him smoking marijuana during a student party at the University of South Carolina in November.

Domino dancing with Conde Nast

April Fool’s Day is still a few months away, giving magazine publisher Conde Nast some time to pull a few practice gags. The latest is its decision to kill Domino magazine — days after appointing a new chief to run it.

Here’s the press release, sent on Wednesday:

Domino magazine will cease publication, it was announced today by Charles H. Townsend, President and CEO of Condé Nast. The final issue will be published in March 2009.

“This decision to cease publication of the magazine and its website is driven entirely by the economy,” Mr. Townsend said. “Although readership and advertising response was encouraging in the early years, we have concluded that this economic market will not support our business expectations.”

Google and Microsoft tangle again — over Verizon

Chalk one up for Microsoft — sort of.

If today’s report in the Wall Street Journal is right, then Microsoft is about to land an agreement with Verizon Wireless to become the default search provider on its cellphones.

In its battle with Google, that should count as a win for Microsoft, even if the company had to offer much, much better terms than its rival.

From the article: “Verizon is tilting toward Microsoft because the software giant is offering significantly better financial incentives, but the telecom company is still in discussions with Google and the situation is fluid with both companies, these people said.”