Fashion Magazines | Balancing advertising and editorial

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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.

Vogue_uk_may_2008The 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.

Fantastic_man_tom_fordThe 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.

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5 comments

  1. i remember this article so well and it was really funny to learn that ‘chanel and dior’ passage. oddly enough, because skipping through editorials it’s not really hard to point such ‘placement’ pieces among the general creative va-va-voom of the spread.

  2. That’s funny you mention advertisers and their dollars placing a hold on the voice of editors and writers, because I’ve found myself being more conscious of what authors write on my blog, because of our new sponsors and advertisers, which are not there for reviews or us to talk about using their products, but their reputations and the good standing of their business is on the line. We just tie in relevant apparel industry related businesses with our readers and hope for the best results.

  3. Funny, I’m in London today and popping round to Hanover Square myself… On the subject of the post, yes there will always be room for Vogue. But as increasingly savvy readers detect that its editorial voice is indeed influenced by advertisers, the power of photo blogs, as well as new platforms for peer-to-peer style advice and social shopping, will continue to grow. Is there a tipping point where consumers wise up, the influence of advertisers dilutes the magazine’s credibility as an arbiter of style and taste, and new unbiased editors emerge through the online channel to take its place?

  4. Yes, though how much does Vogue’s improvement in circulation owe to the acceptance of non-luxury brands in their pages? Years ago Topshop in Vogue was unheard of. In April or May? 2007 Topshop a la Kate Moss was on the cover. The last issue came with a supplement in “association with H & M”. Undoubtedly these High Street brands have stepped up their fashion credentials. However, I feel that Shulman’s ability to recognise and encourage High Street advertisers, whilst managing not to alienate the luxury brands has been one of her best moves.

    modaRhoda from East Kilbride, East Renfrewshire, United Kingdom