HIGHER SALES; LOWER NECKLINES: InStyle managing editor Ariel Foxman told a class of about 100 Columbia journalism students on Thursday night how to sell the hell out of a fashion publication. As he took his seat at the front of the graduate school’s World Room, the students, who gather weekly in the spring to hear editors speak as part of the program’s Delacorte Lecture series, leafed through InStyle’s weighty March issue. It was the thickest magazine any editor had handed them all semester.


Lightly bearded and looking men’s-mag sharp in a navy blazer and unbuttoned shirt, the 38-year-old Foxman wasn’t afraid to do a little bragging.


“We’re newsstand dominant. And people are very envious and want to know what our secret is. There are 422 magazines that are measured for circulation and InStyle’s number seven in the whole country,” he said, citing the latest report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations for single-copy sales. “When our September issue is out, every three seconds one is purchased.”


The secret?


“Ultimately it comes down to our covers,” he said.


“We spend about 30 percent of the day fine-tuning the cover,” Foxman explained as he showed the class how one of the Time Inc.-owned magazine’s ever-white covers was fitted with a photo of a beaming Jennifer Aniston and dressed with focus-group-tested coverlines. “I know from the past that stories that have the words ‘myths’ and ‘secrets’ — anything that people think has been kept from them — they love. They think that the industry is really, really secretive.”


Foxman said the InStyle reader is not in the industry. She’s on the couch.


“We know that our reader spends an hour and a half, on average, sitting by herself, on a couch, reading InStyle. The kids are usually asleep, and the boyfriend or husband is out of the house, and it’s a very sort of escapist, reclusive, rewarding moment. So we make sure we don’t put anything in the magazine that’s going to bother you,” he said. “Many magazines thought it would be very smart to incorporate pictures of street style. But it never really felt authentic for InStyle because InStyle is about our relationship with you, and your world, and why would you want to see some woman in a cape on the Lower East Side carrying a parrot? How is that really relevant to you?”


At the lecture’s end, one student, a perky British girl in glasses and red flannel, stood up and said she wasn’t seeing what she wanted.


“I got really bored with covers. I was walking by the newsstand the other day and literally was led to a wall of breasts,” she complained. “Is there an increased demand from female readership to see really overly sexual women on the covers of magazines?”


The class snickered. Foxman didn’t.


“Is there a desire? No, I can’t say there is specifically,” he responded. “What I do know about what works and what doesn’t work from an industry perspective is the more covered up somebody is, the more specific the styling and the fashion is, the more limiting you are to appealing to a customer… The less clothing there is, the less there is to turn off people.”


Foxman laughed and so did the class.

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