My Meeting With Isolde Motley, or “Would ‘You’re Doomed’ Be Too Strong”

June 3rd, 2003 by Larry Smith

It started with “gorgeous” and ended in “doomed.”Which is to say, I met Isolde Motley!

I finally had the much-anticipated meeting with Isolde Motley, one of the top 3 magazine creators at Time, Inc (with Pearlstine and Huey). Her reputation is: tough, honest, direct, chilly.

My designer Robert Priest came with me, looking very English and dapper in a striped suit and slicked back hair. We met ahead of time in a Dean & Deluca’s in Rock Center, where we had a small Brush With Fame.

This approx 40-year-old, sort of messy black guy who worked in the back of D&D was yelling across the room, “Hey man I read your last book. I really liked it. Didn’t like the first one, though. Say man why you let those assholes on the morning shows always cut you off. You oughta let them have it.” It was David Brock. “That guy screaming,” said Robert, “is what happens to Time, Inc. editors after they’ve been there too long.”

So Isolde was pretty tough, honest, direct but quite friendly and sort of funny. We exchanged pleasantries about Susan Casey and Riza Cruz, wonderpowers who helped arrange for this meeting. She immediately told Robert the covers were “gorgeous,” then asked me what I meant by personal media. I rattled and prattled, and she questioned whether the new generation of people blogging, watching reality TV, mixing music, etc. would really connect to any magazine at all.

She said people buy People magazine for specific reasons:
1) It’s cheaper than drugs
2) For news

And she asked: would the world have a specific enough reason/need for Smith in this day and age?

She said she found it to definitely be for men, and when I explained it is, but if we found women responded well to it we could easily soften up the design she said not to because it would ruin it. In short, she said she loved it (she especially loved the Lotto winner and the Census pages), hoped to see it publish, but explained that Time Inc doesn’t do that kind of magazine, doesn’t know how to do it, and doesn’t really want to learn. It’s too smart, she said, too much for the coasts, and too low circ. With good marketing and buzz she saw it as a 250-300,000 circ.

She gave us about 45 minutes after saying she had 30, but as she was showing us the door, I said I had two quick Qs and then I would leave peacefully:

ME: What do you think about a deal with an existing Web property?
MOTLEY: Fine, but how stable is that property? It won’t take the bloom of the print launch, but has a mag every gone from Web to print?

ME: What do you think about the name?
MOTLEY: Would “you’re doomed with it” be too strong? She added that it’s cute but too much of a leap for readers to make in this direct day and age.

A good meeting, if not one revealing some sort of pleasant surprise. To you Queen Isolde I say: You’ll be hearing from me again, and I don’t mean in a postcard.

SMITH Magazine

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