For the past three decades, readers flicking through the pages of Vogue have been able to see Anna Wintour’s name reign supreme at the top of the glossy magazine’s masthead.
Not anymore — and it’s not because she is no longer at the top. On the contrary, she was just handed the even loftier titles of chief content officer at Condé Nast and global editorial director of Vogue, in addition to her other roles of artistic director and American Vogue editor in chief.
It’s due to the fact that eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the masthead — a traditional component of many monthly glossy print magazines — has quietly disappeared from the pages of American Vogue and is now just online. Instead, around three contributors are highlighted on a contributors’ page.
It’s happened at Condé Nast-owned GQ, too, although it’s understood that its print masthead may still run periodically. Some of its other glossies like Vanity Fair and Allure still had their mastheads in their latest issue and Condé Nast did not respond to request for comment on whether other titles would follow suit and drop them.
Appearing on the masthead in print was widely viewed as somewhat of “a badge of honor” for those working at a prestigious magazine in the heyday of publishing, according to Tyler McCall — editor in chief of fashion-centric site Fashionista who also posts masthead checks on Instagram analyzing magazine mastheads from the Nineties and early Aughts to see where editors, assistants and contributors are now and who were the creatives behind particular issues.
“Clearly it meant something right, or people wouldn’t want that contributor title,” she said, referring to the lengthy contributors section in mastheads. Over the years, Vogue’s has included the likes of André Leon Talley, Lauren Santo Domingo and Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis. At Teen Vogue, Lena Dunham and Bee Shaffer, Wintour’s daughter, were listed as contributors when it still existed in print.
It was also a popular advertising vehicle for publishers to place a single adjacent ad in the coveted front part of the book where the majority of spots were reserved for double-page ads. Vogue at one point had an editorial masthead and a separate business masthead.
But in Doug Olson’s experience in the last four years as president of Meredith Magazines, which publishes InStyle, People and Entertainment Weekly, to name just a few, it’s more important for advertisers to be on the covers or adjacent to relevant content when it comes to ad placements. “I don’t think that the masthead is as valuable as it used to be viewed,” he said.
Meredith runs mastheads when there’s room. InStyle has run its masthead in five out of 12 issues in the past year, but in the past it would likely have been in every issue.
“If we have room to run it, we’ll run it,” continued Olson. “If we’re getting tight on space versus running the masthead, we’ll sometimes cut it out just from an efficiency standpoint. We’re certainly not against running the masthead. It’s just when it makes sense, which is most of the time. It’s part of our magazine production and when we’re trying to make the book size more efficient that’s one of things we’ll take off the publishing schedule.”
All of Hearst’s women’s fashion titles — Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Elle — had a masthead in their latest issues, but it’s understood that whether the magazine has one is up to the individual editor, suggesting it is not the advertising vehicle it once was.
Aileen Gallagher, associate professor of magazine, news and digital journalism at Syracuse University, believes that the trend of declining print ads, exacerbated by the pandemic, has meant that magazines are prioritizing editorial content.
“When we have declining ad rates then the print books are going to be smaller and do you want to spend a page on content or do you want to spend it on a masthead and so the masthead is an easy thing to lose,” she said.
Vogue is said to be maximizing space for its creative contributors, storytellers and visual creators.
Away from advertising, Gallagher suggested that a cultural factor could also be at play when it comes to removing the masthead from print, stating that the masthead hierarchy of magazines is not as strong as it used to be and “the association of the editor with the brand is not as strong.” “Can people name a magazine editor now besides Anna Wintour? I kind of doubt it,” she asked.
One more reason she cited is that a magazine is now so much more than just a print product as publishers look to expand revenues. With podcasts, video and more, “the masthead is starting to get very big and its no longer a very simple hierarchical org chart — it’s much more complicated now.”
Fashionista’s McCall added that in the case of Condé Nast, more staffers are working across multiple titles, while a more cynical view could be that not having the masthead in print makes the layoffs that have plagued the entire media industry harder to track.
But whatever the reason, she thinks it’s a shame not to have it in print.
“To me, it’s a little demoralizing to think that the people who do the work won’t get the credit for doing the work, especially for people who don’t have bylines. Obviously, if you write something for the issue you do get the byline, but there are so many other people who work hard to make these magazines happen that to not have that credit in the physical issue, I think it’s a shame,” she said. “Not having the masthead means it’s less about the people who make the magazine happen so much that it is the advertisements that are in it or the branding and I think that’s a bit depressing to think about.”
Vogue and GQ’s mastheads are online, but for anyone looking back at certain issues, it will be difficult to know who was responsible for individual editions.
“The masthead is a good way to give credit to people who made the issue happen. It’s not just Anna’s name. Everyone will know 20, 30 years from now that Anna Wintour was the editor in chief,” McCall continued. “But if someone wanted to look at this amazing [Vogue] issue with Paloma [Elsesser] on the cover, they’re not going to know who else is involved with making it and it’s entirely possible if they try to find that that there won’t be documentation of that. That’s true of every other publication.”
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