The earliest reviews of Conde-Nast’s Portfolio are coming in. We probably should be doing things like reading the actual magazine. And we’re planning on getting to that as soon as we get up the courage to lift its 300-plus pages from the place where we dropped it. (Bess Levin’s desk, with a note: “Summarize all relevant data—Thks-JC.”)
But fortunately lots of other people are reading Portfolio so we don’t have to. Here’s a quick round-up of the early reactions.
Portfolio arrives to a somewhat testy Going Private, who thinks the magazine gets it wrong even before the first page. Even the cover is wrong, the acid penned mistress of the private equity world says. What’s wrong with the cover? According to Going Private it depicts “a bunch of hideous downtown rooftops bathed in the caustic acid of sodium lights on a business magazine cover that doesn't even have a feature article on the financial performance of local roofing contractors or sodium light distributors.”
DealBook comes in with two items today on Portfolio. The first notes that the magazine wants to bring some glamour to world of business magazines.” And by glamour you get feeling that what they really mean is “women.” Indeed, as we noted a long, long time ago, Portfolio is aiming at being something of a business magazine for women. Most business magazines have readerships heavily tilted toward the male. Portfolio predicts that it will have a much more balanced readership. And apparently it hopes to achieve this by re-imagining corporate board rooms as a sort of red carpet or awards show where “business executives treated like celebrities,” according to DealBook.
After the jump we give Portfolio's readers the full treatment.
In its second entry on the magazine DealBookreadsTom Wolfe’s 7,493 word examination of hedge fund managers who Wolfe apparently depicts as uber-jerks. “Jerks who are even jerkier than the fictional Sherman McCoy,” DealBook says. But Tom Wolfe discovers that something more than greed underlyies what DealBook calls the “New Jerkiness.” If you have to ask what that is then you haven’t been paying attention to anything Wolfe has written…ever. Because what Wolfe discovers beneath the struggle for money among hedge fund kings is exactly what Wolfe always discovers—a struggle for status and power. From the pilots and astronauts in The Right Stuff, to mau-mauing community activitists and radical chic Upper West Side liberals in Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, to every single person and demographic group in 1980s New York City in Bonfire, to prison inmates and corporate moguls in A Man in Full, Wolfe has always been counted among those who could be counted on to discover over and over again their one great discovery. Wolfe’s great discovery is a new type of social Darwinism—one that proclaims that the great motivating factor in human affairs is status competition. Hedge funds may say they are seeking alpha but what there are really seeking, Wolfe implies, is the status of alpha males. “Money, though as important as ever, now is merely a tool – leverage to be used to gain more important things,” DealBook observes. “Chiefly, status and power.”
UnderTheCountertakes note of Portfolio’s profile of Citadel founderKen Griffin. “I hope Portfolio.com has more soul than Ken seems to possess...perhaps his public relations firm can do something about that. Once a dork, always a dork,” UTC writes. UTC also notes that Ken seems to be getting a lot of press lately and wonders if this represents some sort of “rebranding” effort. If so, it doesn’t seem to be working. After reading the piece about Ken Griffin, UTC notes “Maybe Dan [Loeb] was right....Ken sounds like a bit of a gerbil.”
Gawker also hit us with a double entry today. The first entry this morning was something about the furniture in Portfolio’s conference rooms. We assume this was simply a way to write about the new magazine without, you know, having to read it. (A scheme for which we have more than a bit of sympathy.) Several hours later, Gawker writer Alex Balk gets around to telling us what’s actually in the magazine. His answer: lots of ads! This is probably the most complete summary of the magazine you’ll ever care to read. Balk spends as much time describing the advertisements as the articles itself. Balk’s final assessment: “Honestly, this really is the Vanity Fair for the finance set. With the resources they're planning to pour into it, we don't doubt it'll survive for a couple years at least. Is it a good magazine? That depends! If you think Vanity Fair and New York are good magazines—and many people seem to—then, yes, you will find this a good magazine.”
The gossipy Jossip blog doesn’t even go through the motions of pretending to read the magazine, and just dips its pen straight into the bile and snark pixel-well. “You know those obnoxious parents from Westchester who insist on slapping bumper stickers – on the old Lexus SUV – proclaiming the weekly accomplishments of their children? The ones who you wouldn't mind if they careened off the Merritt Parkway?” Jossip asks. “That's the way we're starting to feel about Conde Nast Portfolio.” Death wishes are hilarious!
Nikki Finke is also short the magazine. Under the headline “Don’t Bother With Portfolio’s CEO Porn,” Finke complains that Portfolio's are too fawning. They are, in short, too much like Variety’s profiles of celebrities. “Please, save me from pieces like this that pretend to report pejoratively about a player only to pump him up all the more for the fact that he's wildly successful in spite of acting like an asshole,” Finke says. But Finke says that Portfolio may indeed serve a purpose for some readers: “So my suggestion is not to bother with Portfolio unless you're a mogul and need CEO Porn to masturbate.”
Why the hateraid? Over at MarketWatch, Jon Friedman thinks that it is envy that is motivating much of the sniping at the magazine. “Just as the public resents Rodriguez because he is baseball's highest-paid player, much of the publishing industry happily twists a knife in Conde Nast's back because it is lavishing so much money on Portfolio (an estimated $100 million, covering the next few years),” Friedman says. Note to Jon: read more Tom Wolfe. It’s not envy over money. It’s envy over what the money symbolizes and makes possible: status! Status competition!
New York Observer media reporter Michael Calderone also doesn’t pretend to read the magazine. But—in a display of classic Observer priorities--tell you where to go to crash the party. “All this and there's not even a glitzy launch party to reward hard-working media reporters. Instead, the Portfolio gang will toast one another tonight at the Beaver Bar,” Calderone writes.