THE MAG SCENE FROM DOWN UNDER
Byline: Patty Huntington
SYDNEY — Fashion publishers are manning their battle stations in Australia.
Often described as the most competitive magazine arena in the world, the Australian market — which in 1998 generated $337.7 million in advertising revenues — is dominated by the retail news agent business, as opposed to subscriptions, which means magazines can be launched quickly and cheaply. And it’s fueled by Australians’ notoriously high per-capita consumption of just about everything.
Last month, the industry claimed its latest victim. Peter Gaunt, managing director of Conde Nast Australia, stepped down after discussions with Conde Nast International chairman Jonathan Newhouse. Newhouse had flown into Sydney on a rescue mission to iron out problems at the local arm.
Although Conde Nast Australia increased its revenues in the past year by introducing GQ — the first new magazine it has launched locally for 20 years — and by increasing the frequency of Vogue Living and Vogue Entertaining from bimonthly to monthly, the performance of its Vogue Australia flagship has been lackluster.
Since 1995, Vogue has lost almost a quarter of its readers, falling from 62,000 to 47,000 at the December audit (Audit Bureau of Circulations figures). Although Vogue currently has the second-highest advertising market share after Marie Claire, it has lost two-thirds of the share it enjoyed in 1994-95, when Vogue held a 59 percent share of the $10.9 million fashion magazine market. In the 12 months to December, Vogue’s share was down to 20.7 percent of a market that has grown to $21 million, a 22 percent increase from 1997, according to MMS Media Monitors.
“Vogue had a circulation decrease, I’m not denying it,” conceded Newhouse. “But we’re in a market where a great many magazines have lost circulation. Magazines have ups and downs in circulation and sometimes changes in personnel. It’s just part of publishing. This is business, there are changes in business. It’s not [like it’s] the death of King Hussein.”
Following the departure last fall of Marion Hume as editor in chief of Vogue, Conde Nast decided to name an editor in chief of all three Vogue titles — Vogue Australia; Vogue Entertaining and Travel, Vogue Living: UK-born Juliet Ashworth, then editor in chief of the Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) mass market weekly Woman’s Day. The announcement triggered speculation about the future direction of Vogue and newspaper headlines such as “Vogue goes downmarket.”
Industry reaction to Ashworth’s first issue, this February, with Australian tennis star Patrick Rafter and girlfriend Lara Feltham on the cover, has been mixed.
“Every magazine goes through a process of evolution,” said Newhouse, “but the amount of media scrutiny and review of this first issue is unbelievable. Juliet Ashworth needs time to develop Vogue. Having said that, I feel the magazine is very appealing and has a great deal to offer readers. And I certainly don’t feel that it has gone downmarket. That is a cheap shot made by some of our competitors.”
After having had the category to itself for 30 years, and weathering its first real competition — from Mode — in the Eighties, Vogue’s circulation erosion began in the early Nineties with the introduction of Elle, She and New Woman. In September 1995, Murdoch Magazines launched a local edition of Marie Claire and sent a rocket into the comatose fashion category.
In its first audit, Marie Claire leapt to the number one position, brushing aside its glossy fashion rivals Vogue, Elle and Mode. Although even Marie Claire dropped some 5,000 readers from July to December — to 104,833 copies — its circulation is still double that of its competitors.
Over the past year, Murdoch Magazines has strengthened the brand’s franchise in launching three stand-alone books — Marie Claire Cooking, Marie Claire Beauty and Marie Claire Dining — which Murdoch claims have sold in excess of 200,000 copies worldwide. In October the publisher launched the heavily art-directed bimonthly food/home/travel title, Marie Claire Lifestyle.
Faced with the increasingly mediocre performances of Mode and Elle in the wake of the Marie Claire juggernaut, ACP, the country’s biggest publisher of consumer titles, with a 34 percent market share, has responded with guerrilla marketing tactics of its own.
First, the company announced it would be jettisoning its Elle joint venture with Hachette, leaving that publisher to go it alone in this market. Then it subsumed Mode into a local edition of Harper’s Bazaar. The latter title was subsequently launched with an advertising rate card that was half that of its competitors.
At 416 pages, the launch issue of Harper’s Bazaar & Mode in February 1998 was the largest single issue ever published in Australia. By November, the word Mode had been erased from the masthead. According to MMS Media Monitors, in the 12 months to December the magazine tripled its advertising revenue, from $1.2 million to $3.9 million.
Harper’s Bazaar’s “clever rate card,” as one analyst puts it, which has almost dragged in advertisers, has also brought new readers, from 47,373-plus to 48,588 in the December audit. While Marie Claire may be the number-one-selling Australian fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar is currently the fashion industry’s darling.
“We had to do something else, and we did something completely different,” said ACP managing director Colin Morrison.
“There’s no doubt that the market had been changed by Marie Claire, and you have to recognize sometimes that new things do better than old things. Marie Claire did a particularly good job, and probably in response, the other publishers, including ourselves, and Conde Nast with Vogue, didn’t do a great job,” he said.
Noted Murdoch’s Matt Handbury of Bazaar, “I guess they wanted to get a fatter book than Marie Claire. They’ve gone for a volume approach: get a fatter book at any price. But we’re carrying several times the amount of advertising dollars: $9 million, or 42.7 percent of the fashion market — up 13.5 percent in the 12 months to December — to Harper’s Bazaar’s $3.9 million.”
Cut adrift by ACP, Elle is now experiencing a renaissance under new direction at Hachette. According to MMS Media Monitors, advertising dollars jumped 47.6 percent to $3.8 million in the 12 months to December. In the December ABC audit, circulation grew from 52,636 to 54,459. This year, Hachette will introduce Elle Cuisine and Elle Decorating.