Magazines Rethink Strategies to Deal With Economy

Like many other American businesses, it’s the worst of times for magazine publishers. The question is: Can they bounce back — and how?

with contributions from Irin Carmon, Amy Wicks
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Vogue Cover.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Layoffs. Closures. Budget cuts. Reorganizations. Like many other American businesses, it’s the worst of times for magazine publishers. The question is: Can they bounce back — and how?

A perfect storm of sectoral pressures (rising paper and printing costs, plateauing circulation across most titles) and the broader economy’s woes have swallowed profits and revenues across magazines. Most ad categories, from pharmaceutical to automotive to retail and apparel, pulled back across print throughout 2008. The larger fashion titles, including Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, In Style and Cosmopolitan, suffered steep ad page declines, while some smaller niche magazines were forced to close.

For example, Men’s Vogue’s shrinking to a biannual special from a 10-times-a-year stand-alone title “had nothing to do with [anything] other than the market,” said Tom Florio, senior vice president and publishing director of Vogue Group. “When you have AIG in trouble and General Motors at a 65-year low, you can imagine how a new men’s magazine” could suffer. “It’s like having the perfect boat to win the World Cup, and when we got it out just far enough off the land, the tsunami hit. That doesn’t mean the boat wasn’t fast or the engineering wasn’t right; the conditions changed dramatically.”

The reaction of most publishers has been to cut costs, make layoffs, and close unprofitable titles. Cosmogirl, Cottage Living, Radar and O at Home all have been shut this fall while other titles have been scaled back, leaving hundreds of magazine employees out of work.

Still, there remains optimism. “Print is more important than ever,” said David Lauren, Polo Ralph Lauren Co.’s senior vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications, at Thursday’s WWD Media Summit in New York, a sentiment expressed equally strongly by Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black. The current situation is hardly a total implosion of the magazine industry, executives and observers insist.

“What’s happening is more of a market correction: too much product in the pipeline and not enough eyeballs or advertising dollars to sustain,” said George Janson, managing partner and director of print for media agency Mediaedge:cia.

But for the titles that survive, there are key questions — how to get through the downturn being the foremost. After that, others include: What model works in this recession? And, finally, to what will readers respond, both now and after the recession is over?
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