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Steve Cohn On B. Smith’s Magazine Missing Link… A Mr. Magazine™ Guest Blog

March 3, 2020

My friend Steve Cohn, a legend in the magazine media reporting world, was the editor in chief of MIN: Media Industry Newsletter for more than 30 years. It is rare to find anyone in the magazine media world who does not know Steve or who was not touched by his more-than-positive style of media reporting.  When he retired, he left a void in the world of magazine media reporting, a void, I am quick to add, that has not been filled yet.

So, without any further ado, here is a column by Steve that I am honored and proud to host on the Mr. Magazine™ Blog.

B. Smith Style was a blemish in the late entrepreneur’s remarkable career

By Steve Cohn

After Barbara Smith (1949-2020) passed away on February 22 following a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, her obituaries recapped the remarkable life of a woman who rose from obscurity to becoming a successful model (in 1976, she became the second African-American to be on a Mademoiselle cover) and a successful businesswoman.  By 1999, Smith—who by then had branded her first name as “B.”—owned three restaurants (near Times Square, on Long Island’s East End, and in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station), authored cooking and lifestyle books, had product lines in Bed, Bath and Beyond and La-Z-Boy, and had a syndicated TV show.

Very Martha Stewart-ish (though Stewart has yet to own a restaurant), and in December 1999 Smith further emulated Stewart by launching B. Smith Style with her husband and business manager Dan Gasby.  “It was a lifestyle bimonthly that had the ‘back-office’ financial support [printing, etc.] of Time Inc.,” says University of Mississippi journalism professor Samir Husni, who, as “Mr. Magazine,” has charted launches in his annual Guide to New Magazines since the mid-1980s.

Time Inc. was following the game plan that it established with Martha Stewart with the 1990 launch of Martha Stewart Living.  That, too, was in tandem with Stewart’s TV show to the degree that MSL’s circulation quickly surpassed 2 million. The success emboldened Stewart to end her relationship with Time Inc. in 1997 and form Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (which went public in 1998 and was sold in 2015 when she established a magazine partnership with Meredith Corp.). With Smith being portrayed as “the next Martha,” B. Smith Style seemingly filled a Time Inc. void.

I recall as Media Industry Newsletter (min) editor-in-chief having lunch with Smith and Gasby shortly after the launch, and they were bubbling with optimism.  And why not?  The magazine-media economy was generally buoyant in early-2000 with strong automotive, beauty/fashion and packaged-goods categories augmented by pharmaceutical following the Food & Drug Administration allowing prescription drugs to be advertised in consumer media.

But they never discussed a business plan (circulation forecast, etc.), and that turned out to be a red flag.  I heard nary a word about B. Smith Style after my meeting, and in December 2000 the magazine quietly folded.

Why?  “Lack of advertising,” says Husni.

One would have thought that Time Inc. management would have urged Smith and Gasby to follow Stewart’s role model and hire seasoned professionals on the business side to strengthen advertising, marketing and public relations.  “They had huge egos and would not listen,” say sources familiar with the matter. “Further, the pressure caused by the effects from the disastrous [January 2000] Time Warner merger with AOL probably lessened Time Inc.’s oversight.”

The African-American magazine community has always been known for being very supportive.  Essence (which profiled B. Smith as she was becoming a celebrity) had a kinship with Black Enterprise because both launched in 1970 with help from the Nixon administration’s “Black Capitalism” program. The late Ebony (1945) and Jet (1951) founder John Johnson was the role model for Essence founders Ed Lewis and Clarence Smith and their BE counterpart Earl Graves.

But I was told that Smith and Gasby never sought any outside advice or sale.  “They were arrogant.”

How sad, because B. Smith Style could have made an excellent complement to the women’s beauty-and-lifestyle Essence, which was owned by Time Inc. from 2005 until just prior to the company’s 2018 acquisition by Meredith Corp.

We can only surmise what would have happened to B. Smith Style in the 21st century with digitization and her illness. But given Smith’s talent and fans, the magazine deserved to be a larger part of her legacy.

2 comments

  1. B. Smith Style wasn’t published by Time Inc. It was a partnership with American Express Publishing Division and the reason the magazine ended was Amex decided to get out of the publishing business. B. Smith Style tried to find another publishing partner and couldn’t get one so they folded after 3 issues. 🤷🏾‍♂️


    • Thanks to put things straight



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