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September Issues See Steep Ad Declines, Worse Ahead

September fashion magazines will drop with a whisper instead of a thud this year.

September fashion magazines will drop with a whisper instead of a thud this year.

 

But while the traditionally ad-rich September issues will be thinner than in the past — with some titles losing more than half their ad pages — they’ll still remain healthier than those in the final three months of 2009. Media insiders predict business this fall will be brutal, with luxury and fashion advertisers still skittish about an economic turnaround and not much of a recovery foreseen until mid-2010.

“Ads will decrease only because most marketers are panicked right now,” said David Lipman, chief of the agency bearing his name.

Though numbers for the September issues trickled in over the last week, results from Condé Nast on Tuesday reflected how sharply the economic crunch has bitten into the fashion and luxury magazine category. In addition to facing the same economic pressures as the rest of the media world, the company’s magazines got pinched by the lack of ad pages generated by the annual Fashion Rocks supplement, which was canceled this year.

Comparing September issues to those a year ago, excluding Fashion Rocks pages, Condé’s titles posted ad page declines from 17 percent at Teen Vogue to 25 percent at Glamour to 47 percent at W. But including Fashion Rocks, the declines are steeper, ranging from 20 to over 50 percent.

And Condé Nast’s titles aren’t alone in seeing sharp declines. Harper’s Bazaar will report a 26 percent drop in ad pages, with 276 pages. Esquire was off 18 percent, carrying 90 pages for the month. (Hearst’s corporate program, 30 Days of Fashion, which traditionally has run in the company’s September issues, is scheduled to run with select Hearst titles later in the fall.) Hearst executives declined comment Tuesday on the September numbers.

And while Elle carried more pages than Vogue through August, the Hachette Filipacchi Media title saw ad pages decline 21 percent in September, to 327.

Of the major fashion titles, only In Style was able to add pages this September. The Time Inc. title will carry 340 ad pages in that issue, six more than last September. Publisher Connie Anne Phillips said In Style’s strong newsstand performance and its accessible and aspirational editorial position are selling points, but it also launched a new multiplatform program for September, Fifteen for Fall, which integrated 28 advertisers in a variety of print, mobile and retail variations, helping the magazine to retain — and in some cases, expand — business from Yves Saint Laurent, Chloé, Jimmy Choo, Smashbox, Natori and Elizabeth Arden. Despite September’s gains, said Phillips, “the fourth quarter is going to be challenging for everybody.”

It’s no surprise this year’s September ad pages would be significantly less than last year’s. Retail sales are on the wane everywhere from Neiman Marcus to Costco. Sales of luxury goods are predicted to fall 15 percent this year, according to estimates from consulting firm Bain & Co. Back-to-school spending is expected to decline 8 percent this fall, to $47.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Tom Florio, senior vice president and publishing director of Vogue, summed up the situation during a recent presentation to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism students: “The problem with magazines is that the businesses magazines do business with are not doing as much business.”

“Our books are down in the entire set, not because there’s a problem with print, but our clients’ businesses are impacted by the recession and by the lack of traffic at retail,” said Condé Nast Media Group senior vice president Lou Cona, who dismissed the impact Fashion Rocks had on Condé’s business.

During the first half of the year, retail reined in spending in print by 29 percent and apparel by 26 percent, according to Publishers Information Bureau; the two categories sitting just behind the automotive and financial services industries as publishing’s worst-performing sectors.

Indeed, fashion and luxury brands have sought out advertising online because it’s cheap, flexible and measurable. ZenithOptimedia predicts Internet ad spending will increase 10 percent globally in 2009, while magazine spending will fall 16.7 percent.

“There’s no doubt that there are zillions of eyeballs online,” Lipman added, but he also said marketers have to balance old and new media to be most effective. “If you think you don’t need traditional media, you’re going to fail. But you also need how to get to consumers through social media, networking, blogging, tweeting.”

Many publishers were hopeful the second half of 2009 would improve over the first half, when luxury advertisers held back their ad dollars waiting for a recovery to begin.

 

 

 

For September, publishers pulled out whatever incentives, discounts, retail programs or other techniques to try and increase their businesses, even extending their sales deadlines by weeks to snag last-minute placements and pushing October and November business into September to bulk up that issue.

Some saw brands come back to the September issues after sitting out March, traditionally the second largest of the year. Elle’s 21 percent decline in September was an improvement from the 25 percent drop in the first quarter and 22 percent it lost in the second.

“[Some] advertisers we missed in March that would have run a unit or significant pages then are back [in September],” said Elle associate publisher Anne Welch, who named Blumarine, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier as examples. For instance, the magazine’s European fashion ad pages shrank by 25 percent in March, but September’s issue will reflect a 15 percent dip from those advertisers.

But October, November and December’s issues are expected to see even steeper ad page declines than those seen in September. “One of my worries is that if I have advertisers on the fence for September, I know that I will have some issues going into October,” said Welch.

With a recovery not predicted until mid-2010 at the earliest, worries over the second half have already reverberated throughout the industry. Almost every media company has closed titles, scaled back staff and trimmed whatever costs they can. On Monday, Condé Nast chief executive officer Charles Townsend detailed in a memo to staffers that the company had hired McKinsey & Co. to develop new business strategies. “We are not immune to the effects of the substantial revenue losses resulting from the deep and prolonged recession,” he wrote.

And aside from the losses on the advertising side, some argue the loss of excitement from marketers this September runs even deeper.

“The markets downsized, the spending downsized and for a publication like Vogue, that multiplies out,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group. “For every dollar that a retailer doesn’t spend, that affects the magazine three times as much. They lose the retail dollar, the brand dollar and the counter [newsstand] dollar.”