In a companywide note Monday, Kristen O’Hara, chief business officer of Hearst Magazines, confirmed reports that O, The Oprah Magazine, a 20-year-long collaboration between Hearst Magazines and Oprah Winfrey, would be scrapping its regular print run from next year and focusing more on digital. There will still be print in some form, but how that will work is yet to be revealed.
“As we celebrate 20 years of O, The Oprah Magazine, we’re thinking about what’s next, but the partnership and the brand are not going away,” she said.
The decision to evolve the brand away from a monthly print magazine is understood to have been made by Winfrey, tired of posing for every cover (sometimes alongside a guest star like editor at large Gayle King) and increasingly busy with other projects, such as a just-unveiled interview series with Apple. Winfrey has publicly discussed several times, including in a 2015 interview with WWD, her desire to eventually stop appearing on the cover.
But regardless of whose decision it was to significantly reduce the magazine’s print issues, the move adds to a backdrop of shrinking print at the publisher of titles including Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping and Women’s Health.
Like many other publishers, Hearst has been quietly reducing the print frequency of some of its major titles over the past few years, but in recent months, this trend has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic triggering a plunge in advertising.
Take Marie Claire. At the beginning of the year before there were any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., the plan was to just combine December and January, as it had done in 2019. By spring the decision was made to combine June, July and August into one summer issue. Now, a Hearst spokeswoman confirmed, there will also be combined fall and winter issues this year. That means there will just be seven issues this year, compared to 11 in 2019. It’s thought a summer issue will be permanent, but there’s no word on if the fall and winter editions will be regular.
Instead, Aya Kanai, editor in chief of Marie Claire, recently told WWD the magazine is gearing up for a digital push, with the launch of its inaugural digital issue.
“Starting in August through the end of the year, I’m adding three digital covers and digital issues on top of our print issues. So basically I’m taking the cadence to one digital issue, one print issue, one digital issue, one print issue, one digital issue at the end of the year to make sure that Marie Claire is out there as much as possible. So we’re shooting exclusive digital covers,” she said.
It’s a similar trend across many Hearst titles. Elle magazine, the company’s biggest fashion title, will publish 10 issues this year instead of 12 as in 2019. Cosmopolitan, meanwhile, will release 10, versus 12 in 2019. Harper’s Bazaar is at nine, compared to 10 last year.
Elsewhere at Hearst, Esquire earlier this year shrank from eight to six issues a year. (It was at 10 at the start of 2019.) Good Housekeeping began combining January and February and July and August this year, pushing its frequency down from 12 to 10.
And while print frequency has been shrinking, Hearst has been looking to monetize digital more though membership programs and metered paywalls, with advertising remaining volatile. In recent months these have been rolled out at Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, Popular Mechanics and Men’s Health. Runner’s World has had one since 2019, while Esquire introduced a so-called micro membership centered around the work of politics writer Charles P. Pierce in November 2018.
As for O, The Oprah Magazine, there’s no word yet if a subscription model is in the cards for its digital component — Oprahmag.com, which Hearst claims reaches an audience of 8 million.
“We will continue to invest in the growth of the brand as it becomes more digitally centric, while connecting to our devoted audience of more than 15.6 million in print,” O’Hara further explained in her staff memo. She also made the point that there will be a print expression and they are evaluating what that will look like beyond the December 2020 issue. This could be quarterly or special issues.
Whether Hearst continues to reduce print frequency for many of its titles will largely depend on who is chosen as the successor to former president Troy Young. As reported, the executive, who made a big digital push, including replacing many editor in chiefs with digital heads, resigned Thursday after The New York Times published an investigation into his alleged lewd behavior and comments. Debi Chirichella, executive vice president, chief financial officer and director of global operations for Hearst Magazines, has taken the reins in the interim.
For now, though, despite its decline, print brings in more ad revenue than digital and Young’s successor will need to tread carefully as they consider the role of print in Hearst’s future.
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