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In Magazines, Is Bigger Really Better?

Several fashion glossies are increasing their trim sizes to appeal to advertisers and become ‘collectible.’ Is it working?
Image: Costanza Milano
By
  • Kate Abnett

NEW YORK, United States — Among fashion and lifestyle magazines, the growing consensus seems to be that bigger is better.

With its March 2016 issue, Elle US debuted a new trim size of 9 inches by 10 7/8 inches, up from 8 inches by 10 7/8 inches. But the Hearst-owned publication is not alone. In the last year, Condé Nast Traveler, former “lad mag” Maxim and women’s lifestyle magazine More — which has since folded — all increased their trim sizes.

For the most part, larger pages are a bid to increase these titles’ appeal as a platform for advertisers — particularly luxury brands — at a time when driving revenues from print ads is increasingly tough. Print advertising sales at US consumer magazines fell 6.2 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2015, according to media intelligence firm Kantar Media.

“Advertisers saw the eyeballs going towards digital and their budgets weren’t going up, so if they were going to follow [readers] to digital, the money had to come from somewhere,” said Beth Egan, associate professor of advertising at Syracuse University, on shrinking print spend. Bigger trims, she added, are also “an interesting way to add content without adding pages,” which can quickly increase the cost of printing and mailing a magazine.

"We've always done beautiful hero images of accessories and fine jewellery…. A bigger size gives those images more impact," Robbie Myers, editor-in-chief of Elle US, told BoF. "Our advertisers are luxury advertisers, fashion advertisers and beauty advertisers, where the image is paramount."

Elle’s new trim size brings it in line with that of Marie Claire, whose US edition is also published by Hearst Corporation. Elle is now larger than Condé Nast titles US Vogue (8 inches by 10 7/8 inches) and Glamour (7 7/8" inches by 10 7/8 inches). However, Condé Nast-owned W magazine has long used an oversized format, with a trim size of 10 by 13 inches.

"More than ever, everyone wants to stand out," said Stefano Tonchi, editor-in-chief of W magazine. "The future of print is in premium content with a collectible quality." According to Tonchi, W's oversized format "serves as a luxurious environment for our bold and immersive imagery."

Guillaume Bruneau, art and design director at Maxim, said the magazine increased its trim size to 9 by 11 1/8 inches with the “affluent” reader in mind. “The advertisers, especially high-end advertisers, will find our beautiful magazine an ideal place to reach that core audience,” he said.

Maxim’s new trim size was part of a bigger overhaul, as the title attempts to drop its legacy as a “lad mag” and move upscale in the face of sliding sales. On launching the redesign, Maxim also cut the rate base of circulation it offers advertisers from 2 million to 900,000. Bruneau, who joined Maxim from Man of the World, a quarterly luxury men's magazine with an e-commerce store selling items like Rolexes and deluxe stationery, added that Maxim’s new trim size supports more “high-end editorial content,” describing each issue as a “collector’s item,” despite its low price tag of $4.99.

This new direction comes from Sardar Biglari, Maxim's editor-in-chief and owner, who initially brought in Kate Lanphear — former style director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine — in September 2014 for a short-lived stint as editor-in-chief. As of December last year, the new Maxim boasted better quality paper and skewed towards more artistic photoshoots rather than images of nude glamour models, content that has lost its cache in recent years, not least because of the availability of free pornography online. Playboy also relaunched this March, cutting nudity from its pages and signalling its luxury ambitions by increasing trim size and improving paper stock.

Some also say that bigger is better for attracting attention on the newsstand. Maxim’s Bruneau points out that the December/January 2015 issue of the magazine — its first in a larger size — outsold any other men’s lifestyle magazine throughout 2015. Yet according to Beth Egan, “There’s certainly no research that a particular page size is any more or less impactful than another.”

Indeed, while many in publishing seem to believe that a larger trim size will help to attract readers and boost advertising, a number of titles have taken the opposite approach, scaling down their books.

In 2013, InStyle whittled down its trim size, decreasing its width by 3/8 inches to 8 inches by 10 7/8 inches (the same as Vogue). This didn’t change with a redesign in March 2016 and the magazine told BoF there are no plans to alter its current trim size.

"We don't think trim size impacts newsstand sales positively," said Ariel Foxman, editorial director of InStyle, which is published in the US by Time Inc. According to the publication, InStyle has the largest total circulation among fashion magazines at over 1.7 million. Its readership also has the highest median household income of any large fashion magazine, at $75,730, (the median incomes of Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar readers are between $60,000 and $70,000), according to media and consumer research firm GfK MRI.

When asked if a larger trim size increased a magazine’s appeal to advertisers, Patrick Connors, publisher of InStyle, added, “More important to advertisers is the purchasing power of InStyle’s audience, by far the most affluent across the core fashion category.”

In contrast to the titles adopting the look of coffee table tomes, Foxman believes InStyle delivers convenience for readers on the go. Most women “are not all that interested in carrying around something oversize.”

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