Yahoo closes online magazines, a costly experiment by Marissa Mayer

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer speaking during her keynote address at the 2014 International CES.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer speaking during her keynote address at the 2014 International CES. PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (NEW YORK TIMES) - Ms Marissa Mayer, the embattled chief executive of Yahoo, is gutting one of her signature projects: A cluster of digital magazines devoted to topics like food, autos, real estate, travel and technology.

Yahoo notified dozens of writers and editors at the 15 publications on Wednesday that they were losing their jobs as part of the Internet company's broader plan, announced last month, to cut 15 per cent of its workforce.

Some of the topics that the magazines had covered will be folded into Yahoo News. Yahoo will still produce some original content in areas like tech and fashion. But articles on topics like food and autos, whose publications lost all of their staff, will be republished from other websites.

"It's kind of a blood bath over here," said one employee who was laid off, who requested anonymity because talking to the media could jeopardise her severance package. "Only a handful of people are staying."

Ms Mayer bet heavily on the magazines as a key to reinventing Yahoo as a premium destination for readers and advertisers. She devoted significant engineering resources to adapt Tumblr, Yahoo's blogging network, to host the magazines.

She also spent millions of dollars hiring celebrity talent like Bobbi Brown, founder of the cosmetics line that bears her name; Joe Zee, formerly the creative director of Elle; and David Pogue, a best-selling author of personal technology books and a former columnist for The New York Times.

Ms Brown is leaving the company, but Mr Zee and Mr Pogue are staying, according to a Yahoo spokesman.

In a 2014 interview, Ms Mayer laid out her vision for the magazines as a rich medium for storytelling and advertising.

"You can layer in video. You can change the content. You can bring in the social aspect. You can tell someone, 'Oh, by the way, your friend also read this article and thought it was interesting,'" she said. "A magazine, all 10 million copies have to be the same. Digitally, you can personalize it. You can put different advertisements that are more meaningful to the users in each one."

In reality, Yahoo's personalisation technology never reached that level of sophistication. The editors of the magazines were constantly fighting with the people who ran Yahoo's home page to get prominent display for their work. The home page editors, relying on reader data and computer algorithms, preferred to run articles licensed by Yahoo from other sites because they drew more traffic.

The magazines also struggled to draw in relevant advertising. Virtually none of them were profitable, according to a person with knowledge of their finances, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the company considers that data to be confidential.

Ms Martha Nelson, global editor-in-chief of Yahoo and head of its media properties, declined an interview request. But in a blog post on Tumblr, she said that Yahoo was closing its magazines on food, health, parenting, crafts, travel, autos and real estate. Some of the cuts were effective immediately; others are being phased in.

"As we make these changes, we acknowledge the talent and dedication of an extraordinary group of journalists who brought new and newsworthy content to Yahoo," she wrote. "While these digital magazines will no longer be published, you will continue to find the topics they covered, as well as style, celebrity, entertainment, politics, tech and much more across our network."

Yahoo Tech, introduced with great fanfare by Ms Mayer at the International CES Show two years ago, will continue to exist for the moment with a smaller staff, including Pogue, although its content will eventually be folded into Yahoo News.

In a farewell note to the Yahoo Tech staff that was published by Politico, its editor Dan Tynan, said, "I am sure that bigger and better things await all of us. As for Yahoo, I am sure it will continue to be Yahoo, for better or worse. And some day we'll all have a good laugh about it. Just not this week."