Suffering Fashion Mags... Richer Readers...

It was an ugly 2008 for the entire magazine industry, and the major fashion and luxury titles couldn't escape the blows of the broader economic decline.

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Vanity Fair cover.

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FASHION MAGAZINES BEAR BRUNT OF ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: It was an ugly 2008 for the entire magazine industry, and the major fashion and luxury titles couldn’t escape the blows of the broader economic decline. By the end of the third quarter, magazine ad pages had declined 10 percent across the industry, reported Publishers Information Bureau in October, as major ad categories like pharmaceutical, automotive, technology and beauty reduced spending significantly compared to 2007. The declines continued as Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns collapsed, Washington Mutual was swallowed whole, and the federal government granted a $700 billion bailout to help rescue the U.S. financial system. With an economy in disarray and consumer confidence on the wane, advertisers reined in ad budgets across all media, with print hit especially hard.

According to publishers’ estimates to be filed to PIB, fashion magazines on the whole reported double-digit drops through 2008. For most, the declines represented cyclical changes in the economy. Others had more specific challenges — for example, Condé Nast’s fashion magazines carried fewer pages in December because of the company’s decision to forego the marketing program Movies Rocks. Vanity Fair lost 84 pages as a result of the cancellation of the supplement. The magazine for the entire year had 1,917 ad pages, or 15.3 percent fewer than in 2007, suffering also from the writers’ strike earlier this year, which reduced the amount of promotional spending around new movies and television shows. Other Condé Nast titles hit by double-digit declines included Glamour (down 12.4 percent); W (12.7 percent), Lucky (11.3), Teen Vogue (10.2) and GQ (11.5). Vogue’s pages declined nearly 10 percent, coming off of a record-breaking year in 2007 in ad pages and revenue under publisher Tom Florio.

But some titles posted even larger losses. Fortysomething women’s lifestyle magazine More lost 30 percent of its ad pages as pharmaceutical, packaged goods and companies such as Talbots, Liz Claiborne and Macy’s cut back spending. Real Simple reported an 18 percent ad page decline, to 1,705, after several years of strong growth at the Time Inc. title. O, The Oprah Magazine, which recently folded its home spin-off, O at Home, back into the main title, lost 14 percent of its ad pages. Even Esquire, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year and created a media splash with a special “electronic ink” cover for the October issue, couldn’t drum up the same excitement for advertisers — pages declined 14 percent, to 991. Some magazines couldn’t survive the downturn in the economy — Hearst Magazines folded Cosmogirl in October and Condé Nast reduced Men’s Vogue to a twice annual title from 10 times a year.

Among magazines that posted more promising results (but whose gains might have come at the expense of margins), Elle and Men’s Journal reported 3 percent increases in ad pages, while Harper’s Bazaar saw relatively flat results (the magazine spun off a special issue in September, Runway Report, which also brought a slight boost to paging). Over at Rodale, newer titles Women’s Health and Best Life continued to show strong gains.

The accompanying chart outlines the year-end ad page results at the larger fashion magazines.

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