Editor's Note - The Kool-Aid Hangover


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After a series of drawings with no winners, the Connecticut Powerball lottery ballooned to drool-worthy status- $295 million. Talk around the office veered into fantasy-land purchases of islands, fast cars, big houses, and setting up the family for life. And majority opinion recommends taking the winnings in a lump sum rather than spread out as an annuity. Why wait around while the wimpy annuity payments dribble in when you can have your jackpot in one huge, I'll-take-the-mansion-on-the-left-here's-cash, payment? We want it now!

As the great carrot-topped '80s pop singer Cyndi Lauper said, "Money changes everything." The Industry Standard had it, then lost it-fast. Cruising along at stratospheric heights, last year the magazine sucked up an astonishing 4,746 ad pages. Percentages were through the roof, achieving ad page and revenue numbers unheard of in the magazine business.

Among all the coverage of the Standard's burnout was a reoccurring sentiment of disappointment. Editor-in-chief Jonathan Weber was disappointed, of course, and was quoted as such. Bankers, fellow publishing execs, and readers were uniformly saddened and surprised that of all the once-phonebook-thick publications to hit the skids, it had to be the Standard. The Wall Street Journal quoted one individual saying, "They don't drink the Kool-Aid over there," referring to the level-headed reporting that characterized the magazine.

But someone was drinking it.

I realize hindsight is 20/20, but it's still interesting to look back at how events unfolded to lead the magazine to its current troubles. Plus, I'm still confused at how the magazine managed to burn through so much of the money it made through the advertising flash flood.

One conclusion drawn from some of the commentary was too little, too late. WSJ reported that while the board bickered with majority owner IDG, and the magazine's planned IPO fell apart, the other new economy mags had already begun cutbacks in the face of rapidly dwindling revenues. In fact, CNET reported that some industry watchers pointed to the scuttled IPO as a major contributor to the magazine's failure. The IPO idea apparently didn't sit well with IDG, which would have given the magazine more independence from the Boston-based publisher.

Okay, so we've got the makings of a classic drama. Feuding shareholders, fancy digs and parties, a huge staff, and lucrative salaries (though Weber claims these factors were insignificant in the big picture) all fiddling while the dot com craters steamed.

The Kool-Aid was definitely flowing.

In the first half of 2001, the Publishers Information Bureau noted that The Industry Standard experienced a lunch-losing 75% drop in ad pages. Because The Industry Standard is what it is, we can give them the benefit of the doubt and presume that the powers that be knew they were up to their necks in trouble. But why haven't we heard about efforts to maximize surviving revenues? Sure, look for more funding, but why not look at other opportunities for bringing in more revenue while you're at it? Why didn't they beef up the event side of the operation? It's hard for me to believe that an operation can get so bogged down and delayed while all the troubling signs are so obvious.

I guess I'm disappointed, too. I enjoyed reading The Industry Standard and I'm sorry that it's no longer being published.

Who won the lottery? Four winners split the jackpot- three have currently stepped forward to claim their winnings. Maybe the fourth hasn't felt the Kool-Aid kick in yet.