POISED FOR CHANGE: Like every other magazine publisher, Hearst is going through a period of significant change, and now it has a new pair of digitally focused leaders to push it forward.
Troy Young, who in July succeeded longtime Hearst Magazine president David Carey, is said by industry sources to be on a mission of sorts to suss out any remaining editorial Luddites from the organization. Young was quick to tap Kate Lewis as chief content officer, his second-in-command, and push aside Joanna Coles, a favorite of Carey’s, in the process. Young and Lewis are said to be reviewing or planning to review just about every magazine’s staff and operations in search of efficiencies and improvements to digital performance and integration.
Young, in particular, is said to have little sympathy for career magazine types who still don’t understand how to, or are uninterested in, building out a digital brand and revenue streams. Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar are thought to be under close review at the moment. A Hearst spokeswoman declined to comment.
When it comes to Esquire, there seem to be some overlapping roles on the editorial side, something that once was a hallmark of magazines but is now a go-to for cuts under tightened budgets. While editor in chief Jay Fielden is said to be generally liked by management and actually does a second job of editorial director at Town & Country, Esquire has a few print editors who are essentially doing the same job. Positions viewed to be redundant throughout the magazine division are said to be the first focus for cuts as the reviews roll on.
When he first joined Hearst in 2013 from digital ad agency Say Media, Young named separate digital editorial teams and had the new teams report directly to him, as opposed to senior print editors, which created friction. But it seems to have been fruitful. Young told WWD last fall that he expected revenue from digital to exceed that from print in five years.
“We’ve worked really hard to diversify our revenue base,” he said at the time. “We sell advertising. We sell content and we sell products. A big percentage of our business is creating content with and for clients…that’s the branded content business.”
Short-form video is another area Young is big on. He said the medium is growing for lifestyle media and gaining favor among advertisers, to the extent that he envisions a “point where the editor will by necessity be comfortable in documenting the world with video.”
A saving grace for Esquire staffers could be its recent successes in the preferred areas of Young. According to the most recent data from the MPA-Association of Magazine Media, viewers of Esquire videos are up 31 percent on average for the year and grew to 1.2 million in July from 126,000 in July 2017. Digital visits, be it from a computer or phone, are up a combined average of 17 percent, year-over-year. According to data from comScore, Esquire saw about 8.8 million unique visitors in August. Monthly traffic has generally hovered between 8 million and 9 million over the last year.
Over at Bazaar, which has a bigger overall audience than Esquire and counts as Hearst’s original fashion magazine, rumors are swirling that Glenda Bailey, the title’s editor in chief since 2001, is under some scrutiny as well. She is said to be far from digitally savvy (she only joined Instagram last year) and is not particularly interested in digital media. She is first and foremost a print editor – a handicap in an age of, and now under a boss set on, digital domination. Nonetheless, talk of Bailey being ousted for this very reason precedes Young’s promotion, and she still remains at the head of Bazaar.
As for the magazine’s performance through the lens of digital growth areas, it’s mixed. Year-over-year average growth in video is down about 30 percent, while digital visits overall are up about 141 percent, according to MPA-AMM data. Site traffic year-over-year added about 3.4 million unique visits in August, according to comScore. Meanwhile, print readership is up about 5 percent.
But when compared to the digital performance of Elle, which has a similar size audience in the U.S. and is Hearst’s only other major fashion title, it’s clear Bazaar could be performing better. Elle’s web traffic hit nearly 12 million visitors in August (about four times that of Bazaar) compared to 8.5 million a year ago.
There are other Hearst titles that could be up for some changes soon, too, based solely on performance data and Young’s avowed areas of interest for the magazine business.
Veranda, the interior-design glossy published six times a year, is likely to get something of an overhaul. Average print readership year-to date is down 11 percent, while desktop is down 63 percent and mobile is down 26 percent. The title actually doesn’t get enough web traffic to be tracked by comScore. One spot for potential is video, which is up significantly, according to MPA-AMM, after making a real push into the medium over the last year. Clinton Smith, editor in chief since 2013, left the magazine at the end of last month and a successor is yet to be named. The title looks ripe for more changes under Young and his choice of editor.
Elle Decor is faring better digitally, with traffic increasing to 1.7 million in August, compared to 1.4 million in the year ago period, according to comScore. However, video is down 51 percent, year-over-year, according to MPA-AMM.
Seventeen has also been bumpy on digital traffic, falling to 2.2 million uniques in August from 2.5 million a year ago, according to comScore. According to MPA-AMM, desktop readers have fallen 22 percent and mobile 17 percent year-over-year, while video is actually up 57 percent. There’s a similar picture of lagging digital readership at Woman’s Day, where traffic is down to 2.1 million from 2.4 million, and Oprah.com, where traffic has steadily declined over the last year and fell to 1.9 million in August from 3.7 million a year ago, according to comScore. Part of the decline at the Oprah magazine site is due to a relaunch of a fuller digital outlet currently underway, with new staff members and a site director being brought on over the summer.
One bright spot is Cosmopolitan, which, in addition to bringing some advancements to print pages for readers and advertisers, has seen its web traffic tick up nearly every month over the last year. August visits to the site totaled 29.3 million, compared to 25.8 million a year ago, according to comScore. Viewership for across web, mobile and video are also up, according to MPA-AMM, under the leadership of Jessica Pels, who became digital director in January. Pels’ successes at Cosmo are said to have gained her favor from Young and she’s thought by sources to be up for a promotion this year — maybe even to editor in chief.
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