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CHEERING SQUAD: The magazine industry convened Wednesday in New York for the annual conference held by its main trade group, the Association of Magazine Media, and made a show of unity to defend the vitality of print.
At one afternoon panel, five of the industry’s chieftains weighed in on the state of things and delivered an optimistic prognosis.
Seated were Hearst Magazines president David Carey, Meredith National Media Group president Tom Harty, Time Inc. chief executive officer Joe Ripp, Rodale chairwoman Maria Rodale and Condé Nast president Bob Sauerberg.
Asked to assess his co-panelists, Ripp only had praise. “We’re not really competing with each other but with the other sources of distractions coming at readers,” he said.
It’s not every day one hears such rapport between these rival titans, but the Internet and the woes of the traditional magazine business have resulted in a funny thing: They’ve figured they’ve got a better chance of survival if they maintain a united front.
“These are our business partners as well,” Carey said, referring to joint business with Condé and Time Inc. internationally.
It’s an understandable stance because even if publishers’ efforts to grow alternative streams have improved, they still form tiny parts of their overall business, a point driven home several times by moderator David Carr, a media columnist at The New York Times.
Carey said Hearst is seeing improvements in the monetization of mobile. “Facebook maybe got there first but I think this is rapidly changing,” he said.
Ripp again put up a strong defense. “The reality is people are still looking for ways to break through the clutter, and magazines are a way to do that,” he said.
Editors in chief had their shot at addressing the industry earlier in the day and sounded a similarly upbeat note.
Diane von Furstenberg moderated a panel with InStyle’s Ariel Foxman, Robbie Myers of Elle, W’s Stefano Tonchi, Glenda Bailey of Harper’s Bazaar and Amy Astley of Teen Vogue.
Von Furstenberg, an important advertiser for fashion magazines — Teen Vogue is the sole title among the group where she does not yet advertise, she noted — was understandably curious about the inescapable question of the titles’ ability to draw readers in the face of competition online. Is she getting a bang for her buck?
Overall magazine circulation in the first half declined about 1 percent, according to Alliance for Audited Media, but though sales of tablet editions are improving, they’re still not enough to cover newsstand drops of 10 percent in the first half. Fashion books were particularly hit hard at the newsstand — InStyle lost 19 percent of copy sales.
Foxman made the case that it’s legacy magazines like his that have a chance of standing out amid a crowded field online.
“We’re thriving because people want an authoritative source to cut through all the clutter,” he said.
Fashion advertisers seem to agree — while ad pages industrywide declined almost 5 percent in the first half of the year, according to Publishers Information Bureau, the fashion books reported upticks, double-digit increases in some cases.
At times, the panel resembled the newsstands in September, when each of the fashion magazines lavish their covers with increasingly hyperbolic headlines proclaiming their impressive size. The editors tripped over one another as they tried to claim success of one kind or another. Foxman said his September was the biggest ever; Myers said her Kate Upton cover was one of the best sellers in the history of Hearst.
Bailey compared monthly magazines to books, “something that’s precious,” and she had hard evidence to prove her point that readers are still willing to pay a premium for a monthly print magazine. “If you think about the latest issue, November, it’s actually on sale on eBay for $40 even though we’re on sale for $5.99.”
A quick scan of eBay showed there was in fact a pricy November Bazaar at the thrifty price of $55. As of press time, it was still available.
The panel proved most fruitful for Astley. Von Furstenberg promised she would finally advertise in Teen Vogue. The designer was gratified by a feature on her granddaughter, Talita, in the magazine’s November issue.