James Truman, the Condé Nast wunderkind who rose to become Si’s second-ever editorial director and then resigned at the start of 2005 after Newhouse said no to his pet project, an art magazine, resigned today from his job as editorial director of Louise MacBain’s LTB Media, a publisher of art magazines, which he joined about a year ago and where he recently launched a travel mag for well-off aesthetes, Culture + Travel. “I was never going to do it long-term,” Truman told the New York Observer, which broke the news this morning. “The project interested me because I tried so long to get an art magazine at Condé Nast.” New York’s Carl Swanson — who has written about Truman’s Condé Nast departure and his LTB arrival — checked in with him this afternoon for some elaboration.
You told me last year, “Magazines in this space” — art magazines — “have often been sort of enthusiast or mom-and-pop operations. Eventually, the owner gets bored and sells or closes them. The idea was to bring together a group of them and create a kind of dynamic business, cross-sell advertising, and also make a statement that this was worth paying attention to.” Do you think, based on your experience attempting this shift, that it is still possible? Or will the usual pattern likely repeat itself here?
I continue to believe that it’s possible, and actually quite likely. The current art boom is still measured in terms of auction-house records, but what’s more significant is the number of people coming in at the lower end, starting to collect photography, works on paper, emerging artists. Dealers and gallerists are increasingly aware of this new market, and its effect is to draw back the velvet rope that has traditionally kept art collecting as a minority passion. And feeding that is the media’s sudden interest in art and artists, such as the new art issue of W, which is quite good. Ten years ago, who could have imagined that Richard Tuttle would style the cover of W?
You didn’t have Condé Nast budgets on these magazines, obviously. Was it frustrating to try to create a first-class magazine on a comparative shoestring?
Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, recently told me that in Silicon Valley, it is standard practice that when a project is running behind schedule, you remove one or more people from the team. There’s a real wisdom in that. So working with smaller teams had advantages. Besides, in the future, all magazines will run on a comparative shoestring.
Was MacBain — an inexperienced publisher — as unrealistic about how much good writers and good photographers cost as I hear she was?
One great advantage of art magazines is that you have at your disposal the finest visual images in the world at no cost. I introduced more commissioned photography to the magazines and found the money to hire good writers.
But didn’t you get sick of people (like, say — of all people — Radar) saying you didn’t have enough money or were paying too little?
Well, we were paying a lot more than Radar!
Do you know what is going to happen to the magazines now? Do you care?
I’m pleased to have left them with strong editors, art directors, and sales teams. If the company is stable, I believe they can flourish.
How does your experience there compare to your experience at Condé Nast?
How does Ecclesiastes compare with the Bhagavad Gita? One, it’s shorter …
Who’s an easier person to work for: Louise or Si?
Has Si called you since this went down?
Not in the last two hours. But I don’t know he’s spending his days on Gawker.
Do you have a deal with someone right now?
I have a compelling invitation.
Are you staying in New York?