The other day I nipped out to grab a coffee in London’s Hanover Square. As I was waiting, who should walk in but Alexandra Shulman, the Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue. There was no entourage or chauffeur or huge sunglasses. Rather, she very normally ordered her skinny cappuccino (without assistance and without attitude) and waited like the rest of us to be served.
It got me to thinking that (thankfully) some people in the fashion industry are completely normal (despite the caricatures that may be painted of them in the Press), and it also got me thinking about the business of magazines — fashion magazines in particular. It turns out Ms. Shulman has been quite the business woman during her respected editorship of the magazine.
The Guardian reported in February that circulation of British Vogue has increased from 170,000 to 220,000 since Shulman came on board in 1992 and that the magazine pulls in £32m in advertising revenues (much of which goes straight to the bottom line, with production costs largely covered by the cover price charged to readers).
While this doesn’t compare to the 1.1m copies and $150m in advertising of Anna Wintour’s US Vogue, it is well above the circulation figures for Vogue Italia and Vogue Paris. While these latter two may carry far more fashion prestige, as businesses, they are much less impressive.
But there’s another telling tidbit in the Guardian article which gets to the heart of the issue many people have with today’s big fashion magazines. Having chosen a theme for one particular editorial, Shulman and Kate Phelan, Fashion Editor, realise that something is amiss:
The big problem with the painterly theme is that Chanel and Dior don’t have any clothes that fit the bill and both are big advertisers….so they go through the Dior lookbook in search of other clothes that could be called painterly and decide that a spotted dress will do.
You see, the challenge for the mega-titles is how to make money from advertisers while keeping an independent editorial voice. Shulman responds to this directly in the article, saying:
Vogue makes most of its money out of advertising — and it does make an awful lot of money — so we’ve got to have a good relationship with our advertisers. They’re not going to place £100,000 a year and then say ‘Feel free not to use any of our goods’ — life’s not like that. So although there is this feeling sometimes that creatively it’s not pure, well magazines are a business, you’re not sitting there writing poetry.
The good news is that this leaves a huge space for smaller circulation independent magazines like Fantastic Man and fashion blogs, whose editors and writers can say exactly what they think and choose exactly what they like, without undue influence from the moneyed advertisers. At the end of the day, there is room for everyone – mega magazines, fashion bloggers, and independent magazines — and the fashion media is all the better for it.