Interview without Warhol; Two Years after Warhol's Death, and 20 Years after Interview's Launch, the 'Downtown' Title Reshapes Its Identity

By Angelo, Jean Marie | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, May 1989 | Go to article overview
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Interview without Warhol; Two Years after Warhol's Death, and 20 Years after Interview's Launch, the 'Downtown' Title Reshapes Its Identity


Angelo, Jean Marie, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Interview without Warhol

New York City--It has been 20 years since the "downtown" monthly Interview was started by the late Andy Warhol, pop art icon and central figure in the Manhattan art world. The magazine has far distanced its beginnings. What was once a folded tabloid featuring moment-by-moment Warhol musings on chic parties and rising celebrities has taken a turn toward the literary and political.

Shelley Wanger gets the credit for setting the new tone. She became editor in late 1987, replacing Gael Love, former editor and an Interview staffer for 13 years. While Love and several other Interview creative types went off to produce Fame, Wanger introduced stories on Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The oversize magazine still runs interviews--in the classic Q & A format that has become its signature--but editorial also includes more thought-provoking material, says Wanger, who came to Interview after a five-year stint as articles editor at House & Garden. Before that she spent seven years at the New York Review of Books.

But do people read Interview to learn about third world leaders?

"No," exclaims one irate ex-staffer. "A magazine... should reflect society, not postulate." The ex-staffer explains the editorial mission the staff once lived by: "We were presenting a magazine on newsprint that reflected the goings on in art, fashion, theater and society. It was throwaway art." Is the magazine still "downtown?" "I don't know what town it is in," is the reply.

This ex-staffer is apparently not the only one confused about the magazine's identity change. Interview lost 212 advertising pages in 1988, dropping to 788. The title peaked in 1985, at 1,111 ad pages. The decline, staffers say, was the inevitable result of a 20 percent jump in ad rates, an increase designed to discourage advertising from local boutiques and to bring in more national ad dollars.

Stagnant subscription circulation has also been part of the problem, they add. For the last half of 1988, subscription circulation averaged 85,500, down 5.7 percent from the second half of 1987, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Total circulation, at 152,000, was down 5.5 percent.

"We are looking at [Interview] cautiously," says Nancy Smith, senior vice president, director of media services, Young & Rubicam. "It needs some time."

What's more, much of the impetus for change came from outside, from the burgeoning field of celebrity-oriented titles that have emerged since Interview first hit the scene, explains Smith. The success of the genre has not gone unnoticed: The chic, renegade Details has become a property of Conde Nast Publications, and L.A. Style a part of American Express Publishing Corp. The category is also being challenged with the entry of Fame, notes Smith. It makes perfect sense for Interview to reshape its identity, she adds.

Remembering Andy

The current Interview team is confident it can orchestrate a turnaround. For starters, in early 1989 the magazine dropped its first direct mail package in two years, a 500,000-piece effort.

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