Magazines and Memories
By Kristen Manieri
No one knows more than Luis Dominguez ’61 how great the magazine industry once was. Beginning his career with Condé Nast Publications in the 1960s and spanning four decades of what some might call the industry’s golden age, Luis knew a time when magazine legends like The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, and The Saturday Evening Post reigned.
It was an era that evokes images of Mad Men-esque newsrooms filled with cigarette smoke and steadfast editorial standards that hadn’t yet been battered by advertising pressure. It’s a time that Luis looks back on with both fondness and longing.
“I came from the most credible section of the business, but I saw it go down the chute in many ways,” says the former Rollins varsity tennis player, who joined The New Yorker in 1965 in its advertising sales department. The job was a dream come true for Luis, an English major whose creative writing professors often used the weekly opinion-forming publication as an example of the crème de la crème of writing.
“I always knew I would go into magazine publishing and always hoped it would be with The New Yorker.” His run there lasted 20 years, eventually catapulting him to the position of European director in the publication’s London office before he left to join Hearst Corporation in 1985.
At Hearst, he managed advertising and circulation for Town & Country and dealt with editorial matters requested by its U.S.-based magazines. In 1987, he was made publisher of Harpers & Queen, a U.K. version of Harper’s Bazaar. In 1990, he was headhunted by the Telegraph Group and became publisher and chief executive of The Spectator.
While still rewarding in its own way, life after The New Yorker was never quite the same. “When I went to work at The New Yorker, I remember a good friend at the time said that I was going to the cleanest sell in the business. What he meant was that there was no liaison between the advertising and editorial departments of the magazine,” Luis recalls. “For 20 years of my life I was able to work that side of the street. When I went to work for Hearst, I then got into the area of editorial support. If advertisers found they weren’t getting editorial credit, they would take issue. It was quid pro quo—a very different ball game than I was used to.”
It was around this time that Luis began to see the rise of advertorials, pages in the publication paid for by advertisers but designed to look and feel like the editorial portions of the magazine. “The whole point was to try to seduce the reader, to make them think it’s editorial, but it’s in fact paid for by the advertisers. That really became the flavor of the month at one point, and publications started creating promotions departments that did nothing but create advertorials in the pages of the magazine. I always felt that a lot of these magazines insulted the intelligence of their readers and assumed they would be gullible enough to believe that the advertorial wasn’t paid for.”
Luis remembers crossing that river with a great amount of difficulty. “It was a very strong revenue stream, but it wasn’t easy for me. In the culture of the glossy magazine titles, this was not a problem for them. I remember Condé Nast once saying that his magazines were nothing more than department stores in print.”
But the blurring of lines between advertising and editorial has never appealed to him. “As far as the business is concerned, no thank you, I don’t like it. I think it’s appalling.”
Luis, who served as an advisory board member for The Institute of U.S. Studies at London University when Margaret Thatcher was its chair, retired in 2006 and has lived in Florence, Italy, ever since. “I had been living in England for 35 years and thought it was time for a change,” he says.
His two sons live in the U.S. and his two daughters live in London, so he travels to see them several times each year. But mostly he plays tennis, practices Italian, and enjoys the view of the 3-acre Corsini Gardens from his home. “I’m doing all the things I couldn’t do when I was working,” Luis says. “Florence is a very pleasant place to live, and you can get on a plane and within 90 minutes be in some of the most amazing cities in Europe.”
Besides time to enjoy life’s finer things, retirement has given Luis the opportunity to reflect back with satisfaction on his career. “Magazines were a very proud profession—not yet ruined by the commercial realities. I was very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.”