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Billboard's Failed Strategy Sparks Cuts, Staff Exodus

Billboard publisher Lisa Ryan Howard and editor-in-chief Danyel Smith are among the latest casualties at the struggling music trade magazine, which has never found a niche following the loss of its key market, independent record stores.

Also following on their heels is the departure of deputy editor Lou Hau and other high-level staffers, according to Hollywood gossip Web site TheWrap.

Back in the day, Billboard’s strength was its ability to reach tens of thousands of record store owners, at a time when independent record stores ruled the retail landscape. But those days are long gone.

It’s major advertisers, record labels, fled when they discovered they could market directly to major retailers like Wal-Mart, which now sell the bulk of new records. Yet, the magazine has never been able to reinvent itself.

The magazine has been in slow, steady retrenchment since former publisher John Kilcullen failed to chart a new direction for the publication. He was ousted when the new owners, Prometheus Media Group took over in 2008.

But cutbacks continue. “Morale is in the toilet because the level of dysfunction there and inside Prometheus is off the scale,” a source told Deadline.com. ”Lisa was the bright spot in people’s day. She buffered the staff from the dsyfunction.”

Billboard has been a revolving door in the past three-and-a-half years. Smith took over in January of 2011, succeeding Craig Marks. Marks followed Robert Levine, who began in September of 2008, according to TheWrap.

Billboard’s Fate Uncertain

Smith, the former editor of Vibe magazine, was ill-suited for the job from the get go. Her background like that of Editorial Director Bill Werde is in fanzines. Billboard, in contrast, has always covered the business of music.

Editorially, the publication also still faces the same criticism. Critics have long held that it’s in the pocket of the major record labels, which weighs on the credibility of its reporting.

Werde’s boss, Richard Beckman also comes from a consumer magazine background at Conde Nast. He’s been reassigned to handle events planning. Prometheus Chairman Jimmy Finkelstein  now oversees daily management.

Rihanna, Britney Spears Shine at Billboard Awards

Today, the magazine reads like a fanzine, even though it costs 10 times as much to subscribe as the leading fan publication Rolling Stone, which far exceeds it in quality and circulation.

Rolling Stone long ago gave up on record label advertising as a major source of income.

Billboard was owned by Nielsen until 2009 when E5 Global Media, a precursor of Prometheus bought the publication along with The Hollywood Reporter and Adweek.

“It’s the same old economic cocktail of woe, though this time, worsening advertising, subscription, industry, and macro-economic elements could be coming to a head,” said one industry executive during the last magazine convulsion.

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