Writers beware: Conde Nast looks to cash in on content

Yes, it is still about content.

Condé Nast CEO Charles Townsend talked this week about the company going in to 2013. He mentioned a rate-base increase for several brands; making more money from subscriptions, and forecasted the success of the Condé Nast Entertainment division (CNE.)

“Our print business, even in the worst moment, continues to grow and the margins are sharper and the gross profit margins are mouthwatering,” he said, according to wwd.com. “When this economy recovers, the print business is going to be on fire.”

But then, he said the same thing at the beginning of 2012, which was going to be “exceptionally sunny.” We now know that it wasn’t so with layoffs and most everybody taking budget cuts, and the web business coming in at about half the rate the company expected (15% growth versus 30%.)

And he’s hot on CNE, which develops, creates, produces and distributes original television, film and digital initiatives based on the company’s brands. Articles in Conde Nast magazines have already been turned into movies (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Eat, Pray Love” and the just released “Argo”) – but not by Conde Nast. That will change now with the creation of CNE.

CNE President Dawn Ostroff has said her division intends to take “some of the great stories from our magazines and do them for the screen ourselves.” She also has pointed out that there are some 80,000 articles in the Condé Nast archive as well as new content every week in their various magazines. All of which are now being read and considered for new endeavors.

But, Townsend said, there are still questions about who owns these stories, the company or the writer? According to wwd.com, “many contracts are expected to come up for review by the end of the year. Townsend said Condé is still working through the intricacies of those questions and clarified it’s trying to propose a partnership, not outright ownership. That means ‘more income for contributors but also ourselves,’ he said.”

Do we really believe he’ll be that charitable?

Writers, check your contracts.

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