Graydon Carter Remembers SI Newhouse, Jr., the Magazine Visionary Who Modernized Condé Nast – Vanity Fair
S.I. Newhouse, Jr., the Chairman Emeritus of Condé Nast, died today in New York, the city he was born in and the one that gave foundation to the empire he built. With his passing, at the age of 89, so goes the last of the great visionaries of the magazine business. Indeed, in a career that spanned more than six decades, he placed the Newhouse family name firmly in the pantheon of American publishing, alongside those of Luce, Sulzberger, Graham, and Hearst.
The Condé Nast company was once a distant, white-gloved competitor to Henry Luce’s muscular dominion of Time, Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and People. But with the revival of Vanity Fair, in 1983, and the purchase of The New Yorker, in 1985, Si transformed his company into a powerhouse of style and substance. He inherited a carriage-trade house encompassing Vogue, Glamour, House & Garden, and Mademoiselle, and built from there, launching or adding not only Vanity Fair and The New Yorker but Self, GQ, Wired, Details, W, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, and Bon Appétit, among other titles. In 1980, he built out the book side of the family business by purchasing Random House, including Alfred A. Knopf.
Decade in and decade out, his publications helped report and set the style for much of the civilized world. And much as Si appreciated their outsize influence, he wasn’t one to shimmer around the smart drawing rooms where his magazines wound up. It just wasn’t his thing. What he really loved were the magazines themselves. As objects. And as businesses. He loved them the way his younger brother, Donald loved the family newspapers.
Although modest in aspect, Si ran his fiefdom the way I imagine Louis B. Mayer ran Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in its heyday. If Si wanted certain writers or photographers (or editors, for that matter), he went after them. And more often than not, he got them. Once, in a negotiation I was involved in with a photographer, it came down to a $250,000 difference between what the photographer’s agent wanted and what we were willing to pay. “Oh give it,” he told me, finally. “I don’t want to nickel-and-dime them.”