The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Monday, April 2, 2001

The End Of Powerful Media?

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Change is inevitable, and so, it seems, is the continuing deflation of the dot-com bubble. One of my favorite sites, (no relationship to is for sale. Online and offline reports suggest that Primedia and Brill Media Ventures will purchase's owner/publisher Powerful Media, and that if the deal goes down, layoffs will follow. The New York Times reports that the site could become accessible only to subscribers. I don't know about any of that, but I predict that the spunky edge, the intangible essence of the site, the spirit or vibe, will fade. And then one day it just won't be there. Powerful Media is Michael Hirschorn, Kurt Andersen and Deanna Brown; Hirschorn and Andersen are responsible for that "essence rare" (as the Gang of Four once put it) that has made something special. When independent companies, companies with forceful, visionary owners, are acquired, it's only a matter of time before things change, often not in a good way. I think of a very different kind of company, Banana Republic, which was started by reporter Mel Ziegler and his artist wife Patricia over two decades ago. At first it was one store, stocked with a mix of army-surplus gear and items the Zieglers designed. From the small, idiosyncratic catalog (with copy by Mel and drawings by Patricia) to the store's cool safari ambience, Banana Republic was once a unique place to get some great clothes. For years, while I was a reporter at Rolling Stone, I used a sturdy leather-and-canvas shoulder bag I got there to carry my notebooks and tape recorder when I went on assignment. And I still have a Banana Republic photographer's vest that served me well while covering Woodstock 1999. Only a few years after the Gap bought Banana Republic, Ziegler was no longer running the division and, well, you know the rest. Now they trade in dress-for-success clothing for the twenty-something business set. Wired, once the best magazine being published, is now just another of those new-media monthlies. All the surface stuff, the departments and the basic look and feel, are pretty much the same, and yet it's not the Wired of five years ago; it's a different magazine that happens to have the Wired name on its masthead. This isn't always the scenario. Spin is a better magazine these days, under editor-in-chief Alan Light's leadership, than it was when Bob Guccione Jr. owned it. I subscribed to last year, and I get daily emails in which they summarize, in a rather amusing manner, the latest music-business news (one recent headline about the Winter Music Conference: "DO YOU KNOW HOW TOUGH IT IS TO ORGANIZE WHILE TRIPPING OUT UNDER STROBE LIGHTS?"). It's one of the ways I stay on top of all things music-related. Their original reporting has been really good — a recent piece on MTV's advertising problems was excellent. was a good idea; it's still a good idea. Smart, original reporting along with relevant entertainment-business data and news summaries. It's disappointing that Powerful Media (such a great, hilarious name) can't make a go of it on their own. I bet that if the company is sold, Andersen and Hirschorn will be on to something new — and very cool — within three years.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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