The magazine industry puts on a brave face, but data doesn’t lie.
New analysis from the Association of Magazine Media, which unabashedly pushed the power of print magazines as an advertising vehicle, shows an industry still trying to find its place in an instantaneous world while advertising revenue continues to slip away.
Reported magazine ad spending by the 50 biggest advertisers last year fell to $6.1 billion from $6.5 billion in 2016, according to AMM’s annual report. So magazines lost at least $417.5 million in revenue last year, a difference of 6.4 percent, numbers AMM did not make readily available in its report, which was sponsored by magazine printer Freeport Press.
Among the top five advertisers, Pfizer Inc.’s downshift was the most significant. The pharmaceutical company cut ad spending with print magazines by $85 million to $369 million. Johnson & Johnson also cut spending by $55 million to $240.9 million.
Although L’Oreal actually increased spending last year by $15.7 million to $683.7 million, as did Procter & Gamble by a significant $142 million to $561 million for the year, it wasn’t nearly enough to make up the cuts by other firms.
Other notable decreases came from LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which cut spending by $15.2 million to $216.3 million; Unilever, dropped by $61.2 million to $158.5 million; Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., which reduced by $46.3 million to $95.3 million; Kering, which cut by $7.5 million to $97.2 million; Chanel, decreased by $7.8 million to $67.4 million, and Amazon, which cut almost in half by $37.6 million down to $44.3 million.
With so much money being lost in print advertising, which is largely being diverted to other avenues, like Facebook, Google and influencers, it’s no wonder magazines keep shutting.
A total of 50 magazines with at least a quarterly publication frequency closed last year, despite 134 titles being launched, leaving the number of magazines last year at 7,176. The number of magazines has been a bit up and down over the last decade, but on the whole, down, as there are 207 fewer than in 2008.
And it’s not just advertisers that are leaving some magazines behind — some readers seem less interested, too. The combined print and digital audience for all magazines rose just 1.4 percent, while the audience for women’s service and lifestyle magazines fell 1 percent, men’s fashion and lifestyle dropped 3 percent and pop culture and entertainment fell 4 percent. Women’s fashion and beauty was flat.
But it’s not entirely bad. A sizable audience increase went to science and technology titles, a group that grew overall by 9 percent.
Wired, part of Condé Nast, for example, saw its print and digital audience grow by a monthly average of 28 percent over the last year, the most of any magazine, with Bonnier Media’s Popular Science close behind with 25 percent growth.
Other titles saw some audience growth as well.
Notably, The New Yorker, another Condé title, grew its audience by a monthly average of 18 percent during a year in which it ran some big stories on the disgraced Harvey Weinstein, although it’s year-to-date numbers are flat, according to AMM data. Over at Hearst, Town & Country managed to get into the top 10 for mobile web growth and total audience growth, seeing an average monthly increase of 75 percent and 37 percent, respectively, while video at Elle Decor increased an average of 548 percent and total audience rose 20 percent.
The New Yorker’s number-one story of the year was Ronan Farrow’s first piece on the several Weinstein accusers, but more surprising is the second-most-read item, “Cat Person,” a short story by a then-unknown author Kristen Roupenian. Although the theme of the story, essentially a young woman’s very uncomfortable sexual encounter with a man who tacitly explored the issue of consent, was timely, it is rare for a fictional piece to take off in such a way. It even beat out Ryan Lizza’s write-up of a phone call with short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, which got a boost from the controversy of Scaramucci claiming his tirade was supposed to be off the record. It wasn’t.
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker since 1998, noted his magazine last year produced “so much to be proud of that I can’t begin to list it all — I would surely leave something out.”
“It’s gratifying to see our readers respond to the work we do every day on [the web site] and every week in the magazine,” he continued. “It’s not just our writers and editors who make this thing of ours possible, it’s the entire enterprise: art, photo, design, social, multimedia, checking, copy and so on. A collaborative effort unlike anything I’ve experienced before.”
It’s notable that the departments’ Remnick name-checked are the same that formed a union this spring, citing the many cuts and changes at Condé. The union last month was voluntarily recognized by the magazine.
Elsewhere at Condé, things are mixed. While year-to-date print and digital edition readership at Vogue is down 5 percent and down 3 percent at W, which is now for sale, total audience growth at those two titles year-to-date is actually up 11 percent and 35 percent, respectively, thanks to growth in video and mobile. But audience at Glamour, even with a new editor in chief Samantha Barry and a redesign, is down 11 percent, with print and digital edition readership down 9 percent. Vanity Fair, also with a new editor in chief in Radhika Jones and a new look, dropped as well, with a 2 percent decrease in print and digital edition readers.
Over at Elle Decor, part of Hearst, things seem a bit steadier. Editor in chief Whitney Robinson pointed to the annual A-List issue, larger and more varied this year, as a success with readers. He attributed the interest in part to the cover showing an MC Escher patterned hallway in the downtown Manhattan apartment of designer David Kaihoi. Another winner with readers over the last year was the November issue featuring the Italian set of “Call Me by Your Name,” something that took off in print and online.
“Now more than ever, our audience is hungry for global and exotic spaces that surprise and delight and don’t feel like anything you see anywhere else,” Robinson said.
Elizabeth Angell, Elle Decor’s digital director, added that the audience for design “has exploded in recent years and what 2017 taught us is that those people are confident in their taste and in search of great ideas” and more are coming to the magazine for inspiration and news on trends. Year to date, Elle Decor’s total audience combining print, digital and video is up 11 percent, according to AMM data, with almost all of that growth coming from mobile web traffic. Print and digital editions are relatively flat, with about 1 percent growth year-to-date.
Angell is also digital director of Town & Country, another Hearst title that had a good year, possibly highlighting a reader shift toward lifestyle publications with a sense of permanence and home. That magazine got a major lift from its coverage of Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry and Angell said last year was a “watershed” for digital, which doubled the size of its audience. Of particular focus was Instagram, but there was also a recognition that traffic comes from “search and not social” and some reworking around that paid off. According to AMM, the magazine’s total audience has grown almost 75 percent year-to-date, led by a threefold rise in mobile web, and there’s even a 4.4 percent increase in readers of print and digital editions.
Stellene Volandes, editor in chief of Town & Country, noted that royal wedding coverage on the site and in two special editions broke traffic and newsstand sales records, but also pointed to traffic drivers like a February interview with a divorce lawyer about what may happen if First Lady Melania Trump sought a divorce and a separate “guide to divorce.” She said that item “spread like wildfire online.” Another popular story was one on how Martha Gellhorn’s marriage to Ernest Hemingway could be seen through the prism of #MeToo.
“The stories that resonate with our readers sometimes take on modern manners and misdemeanors, others look to the past for lessons on the present,” Volandes said.
Meanwhile, almost 85-year-old Esquire is starting to see some changes take off. Michael Sebastian, site director, said the magazine relaunched its style section in November, with a focus on “service, celebrity, original photography and, ultimately, helping guys solve problems” and traffic has since doubled.” There’s also been a new “foundational” SEO strategy set around celebrity, focused on digital-only profiles and “best” and “worst” rankings, with an expansion into “buzzy” essays and features to come. Year-to-date Esquire’s total audience is up about 7 percent, again driven by mobile web, as readers of print and digital editions is actually down 13 percent.
“Esquire is a heritage brand…but every day on the Internet is a referendum on relevance,” Sebastian said.
Apparently managing the referendum and bucking the trend shown by AMM of readers being less interested in women’s fashion titles is Harper’s Bazaar, with total year-to-date audience growth of 56 percent led by mobile, but it’s even seen a 3.5 percent increase in print and digital edition readers. Cosmopolitan’s results are more mixed, with 7 percent total audience growth but also a 7 percent decline in print- and digital-edition readers.
Overall, there are very few major magazine brands managing to pull strong through the digital shift. Of the 114 magazine brands tracked by AMM, 56 titles, or 50 percent, have a total audience in decline year-to-date. Print and digital editions are faring even worse, with 74 titles, or 64 percent of magazines, seeing audience on the decline.
Little wonder advertisers are looking elsewhere.
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