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Fashion and luxury magazines got a sharp reality check this year, as Wall Street crumbled when large investment firms Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch were swallowed whole, corporations laid off hundreds of workers and consumers pulled back their spending on luxury goods and designer wares. While the brunt force of the economic downturn wasn’t felt in full until the fall, the end finished with publishers wiping sweat from their brows as advertisers across retail, automotive and consumer goods significantly cut their ad spending.
Glamour, In Style, Lucky, Vanity Fair, W, Esquire and GQ posted double-digit declines in ad pages, and before year’s end, some titles buckled under the extreme economic pressures. Cosmogirl, Radar and O at Home all folded in the fall. Condé Nast canceled Fashion Rocks and Movies Rock in 2009, opting to wait until the economy recovers, and scaled back Portfolio’s publishing schedule to 10 times annually from 12 and Men’s Vogue from 10 issues to just two a year. Additionally, Time Inc. restructured its publishing division, shedding 600 jobs in the process, and Hearst Magazines laid off employees across most of its titles, including Redbook, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and Seventeen.
Aside from the decline in advertising, circulation has also plateaued — most fashion titles have struggled to improve newsstand sales this year, the best indicator of consumer demand.
The challenges sent a message to publishers that they would need to find other avenues of growth to offset revenue losses from print advertising, both to survive through the recession and to gain a stronger position once a recovery begins. Some finally utilized the Internet, investing heavily in magazine Web sites that would help acquire subscriptions and also bring new content to the reader on a new platform. Some also used bloggers to gather a new audience or to promote content from the magazine, as the number of female-centric sites continued to grow online in 2008.
This year also saw the convergence of magazines and reality television, another vehicle to reach new legions of subscribers. Following the success of “Project Runway,” “The Hills” and the subsequent buzz and awareness both bestowed its magazine partners, Elle and Teen Vogue, respectively, many magazines rushed to partner with other popular style-related TV shows, including In Style, Allure and Marie Claire. Elle, meanwhile, looked to expand its reach toward the small screen further after its deal with “Project Runway” — and its relationship with fashion director and “Project” judge Nina Garcia — expired. The magazine launched a reality show on The CW, “Stylista,” and had a cameo on “Ugly Betty.” Meanwhile, “Project Runway” remains in the middle of a legal battle between The Weinstein Co., the show’s owners, and NBC Universal, with the latter claiming Weinstein did not give first right of refusal to NBCU before it moved the show to Lifetime from NBCU’s cable network Bravo.
The CW’s biggest hit show remained “Gossip Girl,” which has attracted a fan base not just for its story lines around privileged Upper East Side teens, but also for its fashion influence through the looks and designs worn by the characters.
Elsewhere, Interview underwent a dramatic transformation in 2008: longtime managers Ingrid Sischy and Sandra Brant left the title, and owner Peter Brant brought in a new team led by new co-editorial directors Glenn O’Brien and Fabien Baron. Esquire celebrated 75 years in business with a flashy, electronic-ink cover that got plenty of media buzz. Oprah Winfrey announced she was launching a new television network, OWN, and The Wall Street Journal transformed itself under new owner Rupert Murdoch. The paper added new sections, installed an entirely new management team and even rolled out a glossy luxury quarterly, WSJ.