Future of Fashion Magazines | Part One – A Changing Landscape

Fashion media has long been a BoF obsession. This week, we bring you an in-depth, three part series revealing the strategies, plans and expertise of some of the most innovative and respected players in the online fashion scene. Today, we start with an overview of the rapidly-evolving fashion media landscape.


Screen shot of DazedDigital.com

NEW YORK, United States—A few weeks ago, independent fashion magazine i-D, founded in 1980 by art director Terry Jones, announced it was cutting back its print run to 6 issues per year, while major commercial titles like American Vogue have been forced to slash payroll and scale back on expenses.

Across the spectrum, times are tough for fashion magazines. With ad sales dramatically down, their main source of revenue is evaporating. And while online readership is growing, the “culture of free” that dominates the web means magazines earn nothing from internet subscriptions, while the sale of online ad space simply doesn’t generate enough income to cover cost. It’s a crisis I first examined a few months ago, amidst dark headlines about powerhouse publishers like Condé Nast.

As marketers continue to slash advertising budgets, there’s no doubt the current economic crisis is contributing to the problem. But it’s not the underlying issue. Even if demand for print advertising rebounds when this recession ends, things will never be as they once were. The fact is, we are in the midst of a digital revolution as powerful as Gutenberg that’s causing sustained, seismic upheaval across the publishing industry.

Readers are migrating online, where information is abundantly available and freely shareable. But that doesn’t mean content can’t be monetized. The demand is there. Indeed, people are consuming more content than ever. And there’s no shortage of people who want to supply it. The problem is, the internet is destroying the business structures of the past faster than the structures of the future are being created.

So what’s a magazine to do?

So far, nobody has cracked the code. But what’s increasingly clear is that there’s no single code to crack. As Clay Shirky, internet writer and professor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program puts it, “there was one single business model in a world where media was scarce, but there needs to be many when media is abundant.”

In other words, there is no generalized answer to the problems facing publishing. “We are not moving from a world of Business Model A to a world of Business Model B. We are going from Business Model A to Business Models A to Z,” says Mr. Shirky. That means each publication will have to find a model (or models) that suits its particular content, readership and market position.

Although many new business models have been proposed, from “free” content that’s bundled with internet access to micropayments for individual articles, it’s extraordinarily difficult to predict which solutions will work. As with political revolutions, nobody really knows exactly what’s on the other side of this digital upheaval.

What’s more clear is that success is likely to come from lots of little experiments whose importance will be revealed only in retrospect. “Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as Craigslist did, as Wikipedia did,” says Mr. Shirky.

What’s also clear is that the challenge posed by the internet impacts more than business models alone. It’s not just how publishers package and deliver content that’s in play. It’s the content itself.

The internet is transforming the way in which content is both created and consumed, challenging the current emphasis on static words and pictures pasted on a page. Nobody really knows which new formats for telling stories will capture the collective imagination of editors and readers. Again, success is likely to come from lots of little experiments.

But admidst all the uncertainty that revolutions like this create, it’s important to remember writer and futurist William Gibson, who observed: “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Indeed, amongst the fashion media, a handful of online pioneers have been conducting lots of little experiments in digital content that help point the way forward for their more mainstream counterparts who are just beginning to understand the impact of the internet.

Tomorrow, in part two, we investigate how little online experiments enable trailblazers like Jefferson Hack of Dazed Digital and Nick Knight of SHOWstudio to see into the future of fashion media.

Read Part Two – Lots of Little Experiments here and Part Three – The move to fashion film here.

Vikram Alexei Kansara is a digital strategist and writer based in New York.

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  1. great article… it’s indeed interesting to see how the whole monetizing issue will unfold…. bloggers face it all the time, as well as the fashion media. but for some reason, i’m getting the feeling that the culture of free won’t be the answer, there is already discussions amongst internet gurus about the efficiency of free and lately it’s come under harsh criticism.

    i was thinking of this as i bought a magazine for the airplane last week. i read every single article in that magazine, cover to cover, and even read through the masthead and the index. i don’t do that with blogs (lolcats excepted) there is something to be said about content you pay for, you tend to treat it with more care than the stuff you get for free, you tend to value it more. part of me wonders if the days of a free internet are soon numbered if they can’t think of a business model to attract the high quality content makers and big budgets to push things to the next level.

  2. an interesting an informed piece.
    i look forward to part 2.

    an intriguing element that i see in print media is the pressure for certain social groups to make sure they have the same information. magazines have their cults, and their content is something that members share. can the same value be placed on virtual content, when it is so so vast (and so fast?). i believe that harnessing that impulse (the need to belong and identify) that is so prevalent in human beings, is the key to any online source taking the lead in capturing an eventually profitable share of the audience.

  3. I second that. With references to the NYT and AP, traditional print media is becoming scarce. Online media is definitely a huge supplement to the overall media business model.

    The reason there is no “crack in the code” (for fashion*) is because fashion buffs/east coast demographics are not situated with online media just yet. Although popular tech platforms have been around for years, even cross platforming in social media, these tools are still relatively cutting edge to the fashion industry. However, because online media is quick and “on demand” it will continue to grow, and eventually be the status quo in the industry (case study in the tech industry: techcrunch v.s. wired. you decide who is more profitable.)

    BOF is an excellent example of a fashion publishing company using “cutting edge” social media tools to expand their followers (i.e. share this, wp platform, comment features and editorials*) and in the future fb connect?

    give it a couple years and online media will be the dominant form of media out there. as far as business models goes, multi rev models seem to be the trend these days.

  4. I can only speak as a once avid consumer of magazines, 10 years ago when I moved from London to Lagos I paid a ridiculous amount to have 5yrs worth of over 30 titles shipped home, and before you think it was a whim,I left all but 3 pairs of shoes behind.

    Nowadays, I only buy March and September issues because it seems to be the only time they make an effort and all other months I’ll scan through at Borders. Magazines dont seem worth it anymore and not because I can get the same information on the internet (it isnt the same) but because they leave me feeling coerced and bored.

    My biggest gripes are…

    The same designers ALL the time because they are advertisers.

    Sienna Miller etc on the cover, not because she has anything interesting to say but because she is promoting a project (why rehash Nannygate?)

    Endless troupe of no name models that I dont care about.

    Sienna Miller on the cover.

    So many gifted,creative people work at these publications but their efforts are being stifled by cynicism and greed so what they produce is rarely worth £4.95. The internet is only part of the problem.

    Maria from Kingston Upon Hull, Kingston upon Hull, United Kingdom
  5. As an avid reader of every fashion magazine out there from Grazia to Glamour, Vogue and Instyle I must say that this article really sent a shiver down my spine!
    There is nothing better than opening a magazine and flicking through, scanning pages and re-reading in depth, sniffing samples and touching tactile adverts- not the same as sitting infront of a 2-D computer screen.
    Would you read Shakespeare online? I thought not.
    Viva la Vogue!

  6. This is definitely a very interesting topic. All around the world there are people who are conducting little experiments with the media publication on-line and off-line – either to survive or to reinvent it.

    Steve Buttry in gis blog write about reinventing US local publisher with a smarter approach and a focus on-line – http://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/a-blueprint-for-the-complete-community-connection/. His blue print has a lot of though and interesting material.

    I am sure in the next couple of years we will see big names dying if they fail to reinvent and add value, and new names coming up. The whole relationship between publishers, advertisers and readers will change. The culture will evolve and I hope to see more quality produced for which I won’t mind to pay on-line or off-line.

    In fact, I am just conducting a little experiment like that myself! :)

  7. Basically identify with Maria. I used to spend pocket money on magazines, though I run an online website I continue to buy magazines, because I have been conditioned to do it. My mother used to get mad at me for spending on magazines when a book cost the same. My guess is teenagers around the world today are not having this argument with their parents. So in 10yrs time when said teenagers are young professionals they will not be going to magazines for their fashion info. They will be reading the same type of blogs they have done since their teenage years and will consciously or unconsciously be buying brands associated with those blogs. Banks target students all the time, for similar reasons. You have no money as a student, but banks care about you 10 years down the line. I think it will be years before we see the full impact.
    There is a huge huha about blogging becoming commercialised. While it would be a crying shame if that happened at the end of the day magazines have been that way along. The difference? ppl outside the industry never knew about the string pulling, but with online media they just do a google search. my guess is it’s the publishing industry who are indirectly pushing the negativity about this type of thing with bloggers.