After a long holiday weekend left the usual Wednesday lunch crowd without their weekly power lunch fix, the town car set who could tear themselves away from their Hampton cottages returned to Michael’s today. I say we outlaw any more midweek July 4th holidays. Too confusing!
I was joined today by Bob Guccione, Jr. who I met last year when we weighed in on the ever expanding culture of celebrity for a journalism panel for Names Not Numbers. After crossing paths in this dining room several times over the past year, we decided it was time for a proper Michael’s lunch once and for all.
I wasn’t disappointed. Bob ventured in for our lunch and some other important business in town from his home in rural Pennsylvania (“I’m one postage stamp away from being the unabomber!’). A few years ago, having grown “sick of New York” he decamped to Mississippi to teach journalism and has decided country life beats living in Manhattan hands down. ”It’s so peaceful,” he says.
Bob tells a terrific tale of his fascinating career in media that started at the age of 18 in the UK when he became Britain’s youngest ever publisher. A year later, he launched Rock Superstars making him the youngest publisher in America. As the son of one of publishing’s most colorful figures, it seems his career path was predetermined but, says Bob, “I knew I loved it. I wanted to be a writer but I had no life experience.”
That changed pretty quickly. In 1985, he launched SPIN, sold it in 1997 t0 Vibe Ventures, and launched Gear in 1998. Then, in 2005 he bought Discover from Disney. He remembers the moment well. “The staff regarded me with some trepidation. When I told them ‘We’re in the entertainment business,’ there was an audible gasp in the room.” By the time he stepped down as chairman two years later, the magazine had returned to profitability.
Our conversation revolved around passion for the business and the elusive quest for profitability and Bob had plenty to say on both fronts. Besides being incredibly funny (sorry, but his best remarks are off the record), the tireless entrepreneur proved to be a fascinating lunch date as he shared his extremely well-reasoned take on why he believes writers will one day be able to make a living online and why magazines are far from over. ”Everything about digital media happened too fast, and people back the wrong model too quickly,” he told me. Exhibit A: The Huffington Post, which Bob says is “doomed to fail” and called it “a white elephant — it’s the default model.”