Starving to Death on $200 Million: The Short, Absurd Life of The Industry Standard

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"Starving to Death on $200 Million is James Ledbetter's mock-heroic chronicle of the magazine that lived large and died young - the wild dreams, the sudden success, the wanton excesses, the fatal hemorrhage. From his vantage point as one of The Standard's top editors, he saw up close how it succumbed to the same gold-rush fever as the Internet businesses it was supposed to be chronicling, realizing too late that he had been infected as well." But the excesses need not have been fatal; other lavish media organizations have thrived for years ...
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Overview

"Starving to Death on $200 Million is James Ledbetter's mock-heroic chronicle of the magazine that lived large and died young - the wild dreams, the sudden success, the wanton excesses, the fatal hemorrhage. From his vantage point as one of The Standard's top editors, he saw up close how it succumbed to the same gold-rush fever as the Internet businesses it was supposed to be chronicling, realizing too late that he had been infected as well." But the excesses need not have been fatal; other lavish media organizations have thrived for years despite their spendthrift ways. But as Ledbetter pursued the whys and wherefores of The Standard's demise, he found himself pulled into the business equivalent of a detective story: Did the magazine die because it was reckless - as in an overdose? Or did it die because someone wanted it dead - as in a murder?
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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Ledbetter's chronicle of the ride read like a business thriller from start to finish.
—The Street.com
Netsurfer Digest
This is a story of a monumental media business failure, entertaining and instructive in equal parts.
The New Yorker
In the year 2000, the Industry Standard -- the would-be bible of the New Economy -- appeared to be one of the most successful magazines in history, with more than seven thousand ad pages and projected revenues of two hundred million dollars. The next year, it went out of business. This self-lacerating postmortem by the magazine's former European editor shows that the Standard was doomed by early success. Unbridled optimism led to wild spending, dubious side projects, and an unwillingness to make hard decisions. The Standard, then, was just like the dot-coms it wrote about, and so the story of the magazine's failure becomes a parable about the era of the bubble. Ledbetter's account of the backroom negotiations that attended the Standard's demise drags in places, but he is adept at capturing both the late-nineties atmosphere of irrational exuberance and the bitter, hung-over feeling that followed.
Publishers Weekly
The Industry Standard began publishing in April 1998 and grew explosively. Judged on its second-year revenue, ad sales and influence, it was one of the most successful magazine launches ever. It took in $300 million in its first 20 months, but didn't survive the next 20 months. Ledbetter, the magazine's European bureau chief, explains how it all happened in a terrific inside account of the Internet boom. The Standard was positioned exactly at the intersection of technology, media business and finance. It was the authoritative source for industry reporting; its stories could drive the Internet stock market; and it was a start-up new-media company with all the innovation and chaos the term implies. Ledbetter is the perfect person to tell the story: an experienced business media reporter who learned about technology and finance on the job; he had a position high enough to see the corporate machinations firsthand, yet had no day-to-day involvement, since he was thousands of miles away from San Francisco headquarters, busy trying to get good stories on a deadline. This mix of corporate history and memoir captures the story's economic and human sides, although at times it's hard for readers to keep track of the characters and events. Despite having a limited initial audience-how many people really want to read about a magazine that croaked not long after its second birthday?-it serves as a fantastic testament to a bygone era. Agent, Kay McCauley. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From its former European bureau chief, a eulogy for and autopsy of the late newsweekly, which chronicled the dot.com boom and died in its bust. An early hire, onetime Village Voice columnist Ledbetter first became New York bureau chief for The Industry Standard in that golden age when all things connected to the Internet promised social revolution and instant wealth. For a time, it seems, that was true of the feisty startup, which meant to rekindle some of the old Wired magazine’s fire and treat Internet companies of all kinds as businesses and newsmakers, not curiosities. Launched from San Francisco, the Standard was a quick success: on its second birthday, the weekly was worth around 450 million, bringing in 200 million a year, and by the end of 2000 had sold 7,440 ad pages—"1000 pages more than Fortune magazine, which had a century more publishing experience." For all that, as Ledbetter ruefully documents, the Standard sank as quickly as it rose, scuttled by poor management with little apparent sense of budgeting and rejected by consumers who tired of "suboptimal" journalism. (Though the talented staff included the likes of Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig and Atlantic alumnus James Fallows, Ledbetter writes that many of the weekly’s correspondents were unfamiliar with their beats and inadequately coached by an overworked editorial staff.) In the end, the media giant that had bought the Standard apparently decided when ad sales went down that it was more cost-effective to declare bankruptcy than to spend money saving it. Ledbetter convincingly argues that the company could have kept the magazine alive without going broke, noting in any event that "in a bear market, the average reader needsmore and better financial advice than in a bull market." A little long and occasionally repetitive, but a solid account nonetheless: a fine study of both the business of business journalism and the corrosive power of corporate politics.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586481292
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 1/7/2003
  • Pages: 291
  • Product dimensions: 6.55 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: An Overdose, or a Murder? 3
1 Impatient with the Present 11
2 This Week's Billionaires 39
3 The Fat Year Begins 72
4 We Need More Buckets! 112
5 Flying Blind into Europe 144
6 Au Revoir to All That 176
7 A Very Public Hell 213
8 The Case for Murder 245
Epilogue: Who Do We Shoot? 267
Notes 273
Index 281
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