As the coronavirus weighs heavily on advertising and makes creating usual fashion and lifestyle content difficult, magazine executives have been forced to rethink their summer issues.
At Hearst Magazines, some changes have already been put into play. Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire will each publish just one issue this summer — a combined June, July and August edition. Last year, Elle and Marie Claire each produced three separate issues and Bazaar combined only June and July. Cosmopolitan plans to combine July and August, compared to separate issues in 2019.
“Hearst Magazines regularly reviews frequency across the portfolio and makes decisions based on marketplace conditions. It was a proactive decision to create a handful of special ‘summer’ issues across select brand titles light of these uncertain times,” a Hearst spokeswoman said.
“Readers can still expect the highest-quality editorial products and our advertisers will still be able to connect with the millions of people who turn to our brands for inspiration, entertainment and tips each day,” she added.
It’s not known if this is just a temporary measure or if this will become the norm. But even before the crisis struck, Hearst, like many publishers, had already been reducing the frequency of some titles as print advertising and readership continued to shrink.
Esquire’s print frequency was recently quietly reduced from eight to six issues (it was at 10 at the start of 2019), while Town & Country already had a combined June, July and August issue.
Hearst’s rival Condé Nast, which Friday implemented pay cuts and furloughs, has also altered its print schedule, but stressed that does not mean fewer issues. It is simply shifting some to later in the year.
“In light of this unprecedented moment, we made the decision to publish a June/July combined issue,” a Vogue representative said. It’s understood there are no plans to reduce issue count with other combined issues this year, but instead to add a holiday issue, while the 2021 print schedule has not been changed.
Condé Nast Traveler has also been shifted to be heavier later in the year. This includes having an August/September issue instead of July/August. Its frequency was reduced from 10 to eight in 2017.
“In light of the pandemic, which has effectively halted the global travel industry, we have embarked upon a number of new initiatives as we navigate how to shift course,” the magazine said in a statement. “One such initiative aims to provide our audience and partners with more lead time as we look to gain more clarity on a global recovery.” That, presumably, means when people might start traveling again, as airlines have cut capacity by up to 95 percent and many countries have advised prospective tourists not to visit this summer.
Vanity Fair will publish a June issue and then July and August will be combined. Last year, June and July were combined. There will be no changes to GQ.
Outside of the Hearst/Condé bubble, other publishers are rethinking print to various degrees. Already struggling W Magazine’s May issue won’t be published on time and it’s not known if the summer issues will be published at all as the print staff has been furloughed by the fashion magazine’s new owner, Future Media Group.
Playboy, the iconic men’s magazine launched at the end of 1953 by famed founder Hugh Hefner, made the decision early on in the crisis to cease print altogether. In March, it said the economic disruptions from COVID-19 were too much for the already strained print operations to bear, with the spring issue, currently available for preorder, set to be its last.
Bustle Digital Group has also postponed the release of its first print product due to COVID-19. When it acquired fashion, music and cultural site Nylon, Bustle chief executive officer Bryan Goldberg said that he hoped to bring special print editions out around events like Coachella, with the first one set for this year. But as previously reported by WWD, that has been postponed until fall of 2021. BDG is insistent, though, that it’s committed to a print issue, which will be the only one in the whole company.
“[Print has been delayed] because of the coronavirus and what it’s done to the industry and there’s uncertainty there and it’s a big project and undertaking for us and we’ll have to hire people. We’re still really excited about it,” said Emma Rosenblum, editor in chief of BDG’s lifestyle arm, which includes Bustle, Elite, Romper and The Zoe Report, earlier this month.
Across the pond, delays and combinations are happening, too. British style magazine Dazed will suspend the print edition of its summer issue and, instead, create a special digital moment with contributions from readers and its creative community around the world. For now, Dazed’s fall print issue is set to go ahead as planned.
Stylist and Time Out, free magazines that are handed out in public places, are also on hiatus.
Back in the U.S., People and InStyle owner Meredith Corp., which recently implemented pay cuts for 60 percent of staff, has not made any changes to print frequency. It does have contingency plans, though.
“As a contingency, we went through and said if we have to pull back from a capacity standpoint what would we continue to print or how would we prioritize those things, so we’ve got all those plans in place,” Meredith Magazines president Doug Olson told WWD in March. “Obviously, People would sit at the top of the list because it’s a weekly. So we would continue to focus on it and then it really depends on where we are at the close of these different issues what would be next.”
As for why there will be fewer print magazines around this summer even as publishers boast that readership and subscriptions are booming, Alice Pickthall, a senior analyst at Enders Analysis, thinks it’s a combination of both production and advertising.
“A lot of the magazines coming out at the moment — these issues are set two months in advance. So producing high-quality new content is going to be incredibly difficult, especially with teams working from home,” she said. “You’re very limited in what kind of new material you’re able to shoot. I guess that’s probably one of the reasons why, especially in the fashion industry, it’s going to be quite difficult to produce the same kind of high-quality output as previously.”
She added that at the same time, advertising is falling across all categories. “There’s kind of a double-edge sword with magazines in particular. What we’re seeing is across all media even when audiences are up, advertising is falling.”
Pickthall thinks that the crisis could lead to some permanent changes in the industry.
“The whole industry is going through a period of structural decline and arguably the coronavirus has only accelerated that decline. Issues were already a lot thinner than they used to be. We’ve had fewer titles as more have gone online,” she said. “I think we could expect to see that trend to continue and to accelerate.”
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