Stefano Tonchi is out at W magazine, which has just been sold to Surface Magazine.
The longtime editor of the oversize fashion glossy, at the title for almost a decade, has decided to leave after it was acquired by Surface, a deal reported by WWD. Tonchi wrote in a statement to WWD that he was “incredibly grateful to my team, my W family, who have been instrumental to the magazine’s success.”
“My top priority in the last year has been to ensure that W finds a new home and carries its legacy into the future, and that every effort is made to protect my staff’s job security,” Tonchi added. “I worked very hard to bring in and meet every prospective buyer. In my view, what is required is a larger vision, a proven track record, international experience, a robust business model with multiple revenue streams, and an ability to anticipate market trends, and ultimately, to innovate.”
As first reported by WWD, Tonchi wasn’t keen on the deal with Surface, after WWD reported on some of the operational and business history of Surface and its chief executive officer Marc Lotenberg. This was a swerve for Tonchi, who had been eager to find a partner to keep the magazine alive in print and stay in his leadership role. What Tonchi does next is an open question, but it seems unlikely he will simply retire from publishing and fashion altogether.
Condé’s new ceo Roger Lynch told company staff of the sale in a memo. He said the magazine, founded almost 50 years ago by WWD owner and publisher John B. Fairchild as a sister publication, will formally joint the operations of Surface and its little known publication Watch Journal. This marks the third sale since Lynch has taken over, with Brides and Golf Digest both going in May to new buyers. Although the titles were put up for sale under his predecessor Bob Sauerberg, it’s thought that Lynch was more eager to cut deals for the titles. He’s expected to do his own overview of the business once he’s completed a sort of “listening tour” of Condé’s offices and staff.
Replacing Tonchi as editor in chief of W will be Sara Moonves, daughter of ousted CBS chief executive officer Les Moonves and the magazine’s style director since 2017 and a stylist of many years. Amber Estabrook, vice president of revenue at Condé covering W, but also Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Teen Vogue and Them, is leaving to company to join Surface as its chief revenue officer. Editor at large Lynn Hirschberg is staying with W as well, and Surface insisted in statement that 30 other staffers were coming on board as well. It remains to be seen how many will have staying power, as there has been previous concern among some, given Surface’s reputation as a company with very high turnover and a difficult workplace culture.
The three magazines now under Surface will become part of a new holding company, Future Media Group. Lynch explained that W “will fit well as part of this new, luxury-focused portfolio.” The sale also includes W’s license in Korea with Doosan Group. While the price was not disclosed, the asking price was previously said to be between $7 million and $8 million. While the buyer is Surface, the deal is said to have been made possible through outside financing from Magna Entertainment, which last year invested $2 million in Surface. Magna is a New York holding and investment company owned by Joshua Sason, who was sued in February by the Securities and Exchange Commission for “microcap fraud” that took place between 2012 and 2013, based on Magna’s alleged scheme of obtaining fake promissory notes to short penny stocks.
For the time-being, W’s small remaining staff will stay at Condé headquarters at One World Trade Center and Condé will manage ad sales for digital and video, along with broad operations of the brand, through 2019.
Nevertheless, Surface/Future Media, is already talking a big game. In a release on the acquisition, the company said it will be taking over W’s bureaus in Paris, Milan and New York (despite its remaining under Condé’s roof and operational management for now) and that there is even a new Los Angeles office planned. After the “transitional period” with Condé, the teams of W, Surface and Watch Journal will “converge” and start to work across all departments. Surface, which has a quarterly print product, said it intends to keep W’s current print schedule of eight issues per year. Lotenberg, who will become ceo of the new Future Media Group, said in a statement that under Sara Moonves, W will move “beyond its core print distribution into various offline, online and augmented formats.” Lotenberg did not get into specifics.
With plans already to effectively consolidate staffs and operations — something Surface is said to have gotten an early start on with a small round of layoffs earlier this month — it begs the question how long W staffers who are lower on the masthead and unlikely to have lucrative employment contracts will remain in their roles. With the loss of Tonchi, too, who basically served as W’s publisher, too, there is already chatter of whether W will be able to maintain its current level of access and sway with advertisers.
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