ANATOMY OF 2 STARTUPS
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — Why does one magazine catch on immediately and another struggle to establish its niche? That’s a question being asked by fashion and lifestyle observers here as they discuss the differing paths of two high-profile launches of the last two years — Wallpaper, which covers interiors, lifestyle and fashion and was introduced in September 1996, and Frank, a fashion magazine launched last September.
Wallpaper, which was acquired last year by Time Inc. from founder Tyler Brule and minority partners, appears to be going from strength to strength as advertising and circulation grow on both sides of the Atlantic. Time never revealed the amount it paid for Wallpaper, but industry sources estimated it was about $1.63 million, primarily to pay off debts Brule had accumulated over the previous months in putting together the magazine.
Frank — part of the Wagadon group that publishes cutting-edge fashion magazines The Face, Arena and Arena Homme Plus — has yet to find its feet. Circulation is lower than expected, and some major fashion advertisers still are cautious about going into the magazine.
The questions about Frank have intensified over the last few weeks, following the resignations of founding editor Tina Gaudoin, senior fashion editor Madeleine Christie and art director Boris Bencic. As reported, Gaudoin said she was leaving to have her second child, although British newspapers reacted to the news of her resignation with such questions as, “Did she jump or was she pushed?”
Christie is leaving to join British Vogue. Bencic, Frank’s original art director who left once before, was never intended to be a permanent appointment, said publisher Marie-Louise McLeod. He was brought back on a short-term basis to give the magazine a more “Wagadon” look and is now leaving to return to the U.S. He will remain a consultant.
Wagadon is looking for successors to Gaudoin, who is leaving in early July, and Christie, who has already left. But even McLeod admitted Frank had not been the hit everybody expected.
“The market has been tough for all the magazines, not just ours,” she said. “There was a mood shift late last year for some reason, and we were affected by that. We would have liked the circulation to be higher, but what we’re saying is that we will go forward from here. And give us our due — at least we had the guts to do it.
“Given the market, it probably would have been better if we’d launched Frank two years ago. But there’s tremendous goodwill out there toward Frank, and people truly want us to succeed. Even Marie Claire took two years to catch on, so Frank is not unique. You can’t establish a magazine that’s different from all the others overnight; it takes time.”
Frank, a monthly, has a circulation estimated at less than 70,000, below Wagadon’s initial target last summer of 110,000 to 125,000. But publisher McLeod claimed she never expected a number that high and always predicted circulation would settle down to about 80,000.
“What we’re now saying is, we will get to 70,000 and then to 80,000 by this time next year — or else I’ll slit my wrists,” she added, laughing.
Frank has been more successful on the advertising front than in generating circulation, averaging 40 to 50 pages an issue with strong representation from such categories as beauty, designer fashion and cars. The June issue, for example, had ads for Paul Smith women’s wear, Manolo Blahnik, Wolford, Volvo and Audi, Doctor Martens apparel, Lee, Fabris Lane sunglasses and, in beauty, Cartier, Gucci Envy, Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Joseph perfume, Estee Lauder and Chanel. McLeod said there are no year-to-year comparable figures yet. So far, she has booked about $400,000 in business for the second half.
Frank’s rate for a full-page color ad is $12,225 and the rate for Wallpaper is $7,987. However, both are very negotiable.
Wallpaper, which comes out every other month, now has a circulation of more than 100,000, Brule said, adding that a slight majority of the readers are men. Its September/October ad pages will be up more than 60 percent from a year ago, to about 130 from 80, with a 120 percent increase in ad revenue because of various inserts, according to associate publisher Paul de Zwart. The magazine consistently has strong representation among fashion, travel and interiors companies, including Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Nicole Farhi men’s wear and Yves Saint Laurent men’s wear.
“Our point of view has always been unswerving, and a lot of launches don’t have that,” Brule says. “We’ve always gone for a fresh-scrubbed, optimistic feeling, and have always written things with our tongues firmly in our cheeks. And the backing of Time helped give us another jolt.”
While Wallpaper basically created its niche by mixing interiors with fashion and travel, Frank operates in the much more competitive category of women’s fashion, facing off with such titles as Vogue, Harpers & Queen, Elle and Marie Claire. Observers pointed out that even Wallpaper took time to establish itself, missing publication dates in the early days because of a lack of funds, and it was on the edge of demise before Time threw it a lifeline.
Critics of Frank say the recent departures at the magazine increase speculation that it’s in trouble. Its admirers praise its fashion layouts and mix of fashion with more serious articles, such as pieces on the 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel, Amnesty International’s battle with Britain over human rights or Labor’s arts policy. Others say it has been too pretentious, too much like other magazines and has lacked a strong point of view.
A spokesman for Calvin Klein, which has advertised in both Wallpaper and Frank, said, “We were one of the first fashion houses to go into Wallpaper. We definitely see it as a lifestyle publication that’s very contemporary and very much about our sensibility. It’s very global with a very cosmopolitan reader who is difficult to reach with other types of marketing campaigns. It’s a magazine about modern living. We supported Frank with CK Calvin Klein apparel and accessories this spring and are now finalizing our plans for fall. But the uncertainty on the editorial side may play a part in our decision.”
“Frank’s obviously been slower to take off, but the strategy of the magazine is to be quite individual and that takes time to establish,” said designer Paul Smith. “We advertise in Frank because it’s trying to be open and honest and not pander to popular demand. It’s probably found its feet over the last two issues and probably does deliver a reader the other fashion magazines don’t because of its stories and how it uses photographers.
“It’s perfect for us because we’ve always had a customer who’s looking for a different point-of-view on things. Wallpaper, although commercially more successful, is interesting in the way it mixes fashion and interiors. It’s very international and its launch coincided very much with the Prada-Gucci era of clean minimalism. It’s always been hand-in-hand with that kind of modernity, which is probably one of the reasons it kicked off quicker than Frank.”
Sarah Matthews, brand marketing manager at Selfridges, said the department store decided to do two recent advertorials with Wallpaper because of its international reach and urban feeling.
“But where Wallpaper wouldn’t be good would be for a broader commercial message like the launch of a new department. We’d need a larger circulation for that. Wallpaper is more all-encompassing because it’s a lifestyle magazine and that works well with a department store,” she added. “Frank has more of a fashion focus. One of the reasons we’ve not gone into it is because our contemporary fashion area is being refurbished, which is what we would promote in Frank.”
Anna Garner, advertising and public relations director at Joseph, praised Frank, claiming it attracts a slightly different reader than fashion magazines like Vogue. Joseph has advertised in the magazine several times, both for its fashion and its fragrance.
“There is some overlap in readership with Vogue, but I would say the Frank reader is young but still fashion-aware,” Garner said. “It’s important to attract that audience.”
Chris Bailey, a director of the women’s and men’s wear retailer Jigsaw, which hopes to enter the U.S. this fall with a men’s wear store, said, “I wasn’t impressed with the first few issues of Frank because they were too congested and confusing, but the last few have settled down and it now seems to be finding its feet. It’s becoming more like Arena, which does a very good job in the men’s market, and if Frank can do the same mix of fashion and features for women, then it should succeed. Frank does have a different reader than the others, someone who’s more fashion-forward because of the stylists and photographers it uses.
“We’ve been in Wallpaper from the beginning. The first few issues were good, then it drifted off the ball a bit, but the last two issues have been very good. It has an international reader who’s interested in everything from travel to where to find a sofa. The fashion isn’t as strong as it could be, but I’m not sure it needs to be. We advertise in it to reach the person who doesn’t buy the everyday fashion magazine. There’s something about Wallpaper that’s very fresh and optimistic.”
Brule believes Wallpaper is now firmly in a growth mode, and there are plans for more bound supplements like the recent Swedish one and even, one day, more titles under his stewardship. McLeod firmly believes Frank eventually will find its niche, especially given the track record of Wagadon founder Nick Logan.
“My soothsayer recently told me that Frank was going to be a big success,” she said. “She better be right, or else I’ll ask for my money back.”