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Press: Suddenly, Now! Is Never

4 minute read

With losses mounting, Goldsmith folds his newsmagazine

When Sir James Goldsmith launched his weekly newsmagazine Now! 19 months ago, he gave it a rousing sendoff. The pugnacious French-British entrepreneur spent more than $ 1 million on promotion, and the initial pressrun of 416,000 copies was a sellout. With the London Sunday Times and its glossy magazine shut down by a labor dispute, upscale advertisers flocked to the new publication. Start-up costs were high ($5.4 million), but the brash publisher was undeterred. Said Sir James: “If it has the feeling of life in it, I will keep it going, even with losses.”

Last week, 84 issues and more than $11 million in losses later, Sir James admitted there were no vital signs and shut down his hemorrhaging weekly. The flood of ads in the first few issues had slowed to a trickle when the Sunday Times reappeared two months later, and Goldsmith never achieved his initial circulation goal of 250,000. After averaging 182,000 during its first year, Now! slid to 119,000 in recent months. It cut its ad rates by about 30%, but even then, says a London advertising executive, “the rates were too high for the circulation offered.” For every $1.30 copy of Now!, Goldsmith was losing $1. Says he: “It was obvious that we were not going to be able to build it up again.”

Goldsmith badly misjudged his market and competition. Because Britain is small and has excellent rail service, the leading London newspapers are distributed nationally. The Sunday editions (combined circ. 17.8 million) provide extensive national and international news, in-depth background reports and a wide range of reviews and entertainment stories. Also well entrenched are the Economist (U.K. circ. 69,000), TIME (British Isles and Ireland circ. 78,000) and Newsweek (circ. 40,000). Now! could not decide whether it was a feature or a newsmagazine. Its reporting never matched the newspapers’, and its writing and analysis fell far short of the weeklies.

It will be best remembered for its generous use of color photographs. The Guardian offered the kindest epitaph: “Now!-was a brave deed in a cowardly world.”

Before starting Now!, Goldsmith, 48, a flamboyant food conglomerate millionaire and owner of the French newsweekly L’Express (circ. 585,000), tried to acquire the Observer and then bought 35% of the nonvoting stock in the Beaverbrook chain, whose flagship is the Daily Express (circ. 2.3 million). He made no secret of the fact that he wanted a foothold in British publishing to advance his political ideas. By his own description, he was a “frustrated politician” worried about Britain’s drift to the left.

At Now! he hired right-wing columnists and a conservative editor to set the tone. Last January Nowl’s abrasive proprietor ordered his magazine to publish an eight-page speech he had written on the dangers of Communist infiltration.

That same month, incensed over a negative story on his friend French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Goldsmith blocked distribution of his magazine in Europe.

Said Sir James: “I’ve been a grocer for most of my life. In the grocery business, if you send out a batch of poisonous food, you have to recall it. Poisoning the brain is the same as poisoning the gut.”

Though appalled by Goldsmith’s occasional intrusions, Now!’s well-paid (upwards of $54,000 for top writers) 80-journalist staff was crushed by the closure. Editor in Chief Anthony Shrimsley compared Now! to the Concorde: “A marvelous concept, marvelous design, tremendous crew, and everyone who flies it loves it, but you can’t get enough passengers to make it a commercial success.” As his London employees totted up their severance (perhaps as high as 56.5 million), Goldsmith saw virtue in defeat. Said he:

“When a venture stops being an investment and starts being a subsidy, you have to have the courage to drop it.”

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