Last year, former Observer scribe John Koblin was telling us breathlessly how Condé Nast’s executive director of digital magazine development, Scott Dadich, was going to save magazines. In Koblin’s words, the guy was “scary-smart” and “widely seen as the guy who can bridge magazine design and technology, and bring the business one step closer to salvation.” He was “the new It Boy of publishing” as of last August. “Someday, when they tell the story of how digital magazines saved Condé Nast, it will begin in San Francisco’s Caffé Centro sometime in May 2009,” we were told. (It was then that Dadich first shared his idea for a Wired iPad app.)
Well, it’s a year later, and are we telling that story yet? About how Dadich saved Condé Nast’s magazines? Not quite.
Under new editorship, the Observer has broken the news to us that, in fact, pretty much all of that was wrong. In a story by Intel alumn Nitasha Tiku, the salmon-colored paper concedes that Dadich was, well, over-hyped. “It’s hard to find a print dinosaur that doesn’t drool a little, post-recession, over the possibility of wading into a teeming new revenue stream,” Tiku writes, explaining why Dadich’s allies lapsed hyperbolic a year ago. Back then they compared him to “some sort of combination of Jesus and Pele” and claimed that “with a talent like Scott, magazines will never die.”
See, Condé Nast wanted to jump into the iPad market, but they didn’t want to hire anybody extra to help them do it. So design folks who were already busy putting together print magazines were also tasked with putting together (significantly different) tablet designs. It was a strain on resources, and even as designers worked hard to churn out the apps, fewer and fewer people were reading them. In some cases, PDF versions of the magazines that can be downloaded on the Nook do better than iPad versions. A partnership with Adobe also clipped the wings of the development teams.
Now, instead of serving as savior, it looks like Dadich may be the one in need of saving. “It doesn’t appear likely that Mr. Dadich is on his way to the guillotine. But there are certainly those ready to plot a coup,” Tiku writes. “Many of the sources who spoke to the Observer wondered why, in a city suddenly teeming with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and coders, a print guy like Mr. Dadich was picked to lead the way in the first place. One told the Observer that, last year, even Adobe requested a different point person better versed in interactive design.”
Condé Nast, as steeped in tradition and personality as it is, will probably never learn its lesson to not build up its kings and queens so quickly. But one can assume the Observer, in this new, edgier-again era, is going to eye them much more skeptically going forward.