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How Sweet Is It?

DailyCandy goes shopping for a sugar daddy.

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DailyCandy founder Dany Levy.  

DailyCandy’s ascent inspires two emotions straight out of a novel with a red stiletto on the cover: catty jealousy and fear of abandonment. For six years, Candy’s breezy tips on fine-tuning one’s dining, shopping, and primping habits have cultivated an intimate rapport with readers. Written in a cliquish chick-lit chirp, the dispatches appear to come from a gossipy, mysteriously connected friend somewhere in the East Sixties. And with the recent news that the bustling enterprise was on the block, our friend was about to marry very, very rich.

The selling of DailyCandy—first announced in the Wall Street Journal in February with a $100 million price tag attached—has been watched by many anxious eyes. To some, its successful handover to a big-time buyer (still pending at press time) would herald nothing less than the second coming of the dot-com boom and the rebirth of Silicon Alley. A definitive price would finally be set for such esoteric assets as “consent-based access” and “qualified Web,” and a hefty deal would reestablish Bob Pittman as a Web visionary. When the enigmatic AOL veteran paid $3.5 million for a controlling interest in the company in 2003, industry observers knew he was up to something—but what?

In other words, that’s a lot of pressure on a site (I almost wrote “a girl”) that just wants you to know about the Marc Jacobs sample sale.

DailyCandy’s modus operandi is as simple as they come. It generates e-mails telling you what to buy and, on occasion, how to spend your weekend. The medium (e-mail) is the message (“you’re in”); the content, instead of being flanked by ads, is the ad. The genius is in the pitch of the pitch, which sustains an uncanny illusion of personal attention. “You’re no Cyndi Lauper,” a sample e-mail starts, “but the wanting to have fun? There you concur.” “You’re known for your stellar manners,” begins the very next one. On any given day, your in-box may hawk an online jeweler, steer you toward a tote made of discarded sails, coo over a spa, or gush about a hotel in Udaipur—but the story is always you. DailyCandy is content to act the sassy sidekick, or Sidekick, to your star. The coup de grace comes in the form of Sujean Rim’s delightful, feathery watercolor in every e-mail: a hip sweatered couple, a girl riding a bike with a flower bouquet in the basket. After three or four doses, each of these insidiously flattering pictures begins to look like your portrait.

The brain of the operation is Dany Levy, a former New York staffer who based the idea on TheStreet.com’s newsletter: up-to-the-minute info delivered straight to your in-box, except with lifestyle trends instead of market news.

Levy manages to sound jazzed and lawyered-up at the same time. When she says of her company’s mission, “It’s culture fun!” the line comes across as scripted and yet somehow genuine. She talks fast and gives every sign of thinking very fast, too. After New York, she tried Self and Lucky, but the production pace of monthlies frustrated her. She wanted something much quicker. Something daily.

The first batch of Candy went out in March 2000, written by Levy herself. The address list was 700 names long, a mix of friends and editors largely plucked from her own Rolodex. By 2003, the newsletter had amassed about 285,000 subscribers, began adding other city editions, and attracted Bob Pittman’s attention. As of now, it boasts an audience of about 1.2 million and publishes eleven individual newsletters (including Dallas, Atlanta, “Everywhere,” and “Kids”).

To help the site flow with the bewildering currents of female taste, DailyCandy operates as a decentralized democracy. Its four editors in New York are ensconced in a Manhattan office, the only swath of real estate to the company’s name and still slightly mythical: I asked to visit it and was brushed off in full character (“Unfortunately, the editors are too damn busy shoe shopping and circling each other’s fat with thick black marker—they’re just not up for entertaining”). The other eight cities with their own newsletters get one editor each, all working from home, exactly as DailyCandy would want you to imagine: a girl at her iMac, languorously typing up a beauty tip.

Each city editor, in London and Dallas alike, is expected to find and pitch enough scoops and quips to keep up the daily pace. Being swamped with suggestions from eager publicists helps, although not, says editor-at-large Dannielle Romano, as much as one would suspect: According to her, DailyCandy uses less PR-generated fodder than most consumer magazines. Editorial decisions are made in a multitiered roundelay of conference calls; ideas deemed unworthy of solo spotlight get lumped together in packs of four or five for “Weekend Guide” mail-outs. The Website depicts a comely staff of 28 (all three forlorn-looking males hold IT positions). It’s a surprisingly robust masthead, considering that the entire operation produces about 1,500 words a day—barely a peep in the days of unrelieved blogorrhea and Web-wide word bloat. The far-flung editors appear to see each other in person very rarely; I did not ask what happens when they do, but if I did, I’m sure the answer would have been pillow fights and much mutual hair-braiding.


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