How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fairchild?

Condé Nast's less-glam sibling has been languishing—can a new product help bring it back from the brink?

Ever since Advance Publications chairman Si Newhouse bought Fairchild Publications (now Fashion Group) from Disney in 1999, it seems he’s been trying to figure out what to do with it. Once a collection of trades and consumer magazines, Fairchild has been stripped down over the years and is now primarily just Women’s Wear Daily and its related businesses.

The company is private and won’t disclose its finances, but as recently as 2009, it was believed to be losing $25 million a year. A revolving door of leaders (including Richard Beckman, now CEO of Adweek parent Prometheus Global Media) hasn’t helped. The losses are believed to have lessened, but the business isn’t what it once was. WWD’s 2010 advertising revenue was an estimated $22 million, less than half what it was pre-recession, according to IMS’ ad-tracking service.

Fairchild has sold or closed its other trades, but WWD is the problem child Newhouse can’t cut despite interest from would-be buyers. “Si loves Women’s Wear,” a longtime Fairchild executive says. “He thinks it’s a great editorial product.”

Still, Fairchild has always held an awkward position in the shadow of Condé Nast, reflecting its less-glam trade status but also a corporate culture that promotes intramural competition. When it was a separate division, its consumer business swelled. But that only lasted for so long before titles like Brides, Details, and W were subsumed by Condé.

But now, under new-ish president and CEO Gina Sanders—who’s married to Newhouse’s nephew Steven—Fairchild is getting ready to introduce a new consumer-targeted product, its first since Sanders took the reins over a year ago. The new product, a glossy spinoff of, its website for the runway-obsessed, will launch this fall. Sanders is hinting at more consumer products to come under the brand, and Fairchild is also preparing an overhauled in August, followed by tablet and mobile editions.  

That sort of new idea could help Fairchild find its way, but it might be that Sanders’ Newhouse connections, and thus her loyalty to the cause, makes her Fairchild’s best hope yet.