Condé Nast's magazines are all about glamour, wealth, prestige. To uphold that image, magazine editors need to circulate at the top of New York society. But the top of New York society consists of people who make far more money than magazine editors do--investment bankers, corporate chieftains, and fashion designers. Million-dollar salaries aren't enough to mix as equals with the Trumps and Karans. Si's perks are equalizers.
And they say it's not as good as it used to be. In 1992, according to Thomas Maier's biography of Newhouse, the editor of Self held a birthday party for Si Newhouse's dog. (Owners ate caviar; dogs drank Evian.) The lowliest assistants used to take car services home. But new Condé Nast CEO Steve Florio has restricted cars and catering. Editors who used to fly the Concorde now fly first-class; those who used to fly first-class now fly business. Expense accounts are scrutinized. Even so, today's Condé Nast is economical only by Condé Nast standards. The belt is tighter, but it's still hand-tooled, hand-tanned, and fashioned from the finest Italian leather.