where next for the fashion magazine?

Fashion publishing seems to have been in a constant state of flux and crisis since the digital revolution began almost ten years ago. Many magazines are closing and the rest are trying to adapt to two changing industries at once, as both publishing and...

10 February 2016, 3:40pm

It's no secret that the pieces that make up the magazine market are up in the air, and it's no secret that no one knows quite how they'll look when they land. Economically, the old model is collapsing in on itself. Print advertising revenue is a quarter of what is was a decade ago, digital advertising revenue hasn't caught up, and circulation has fallen almost everywhere. Magazine publishing is in a perilous state and undergoing an intense existential crisis about its role in the 21st century.

It's no secret that the fashion industry is changing, too. It's now a relentlessly rolling behemoth of endless pre collections, fashion weeks, and year-round schedules; designers are decrying the effect it's having on their creativity, who feel the pressure and pace are unsustainable. The fashion industry itself might be about to undergo a change as seismic as the one publishing began heaving itself through when the digital revolution began.

Not quite overnight, but in a period of a few years certainly -- between the beginning of high speed, broadband internet and wi-fi, and the rise of the smartphone and tablet -- the way people consume and enjoy media changed irrevocably. How old fashioned does it seem now, to slip down the newsagent to buy a newspaper in the morning? The age-old image of the businessman with a rolled up copy of a paper (a paid for newspaper that is, not a freesheet given out as you get on the tube) under his arm, alongside briefcase and umbrella, feels positively Victorian these days. Newspaper circulations are tanking faster than magazines', and let's not sugarcoat it, magazine circulation is tanking too (it's worth noting that i-D is up in circulation and profit for 2015).

The number of magazines sold in 2015, was down 15 million on the number sold in 2014. And that's following on from a 2014 when, year-on-year, Glamour was down 2.5%, Closer was down 11.8%, Cosmo down 9.8%, Marie Claire down 13%, Grazia down 6.4%, Elle down 4.4%, GQ down 2%, Vogue down 1%, FHM fell 20% before being closed (according to MediaWeek's ABC circulation figures). 2015 looks like it will be about the same for the industry's large publishing houses. In America, Condé Nast is streamlining, Hearst are investing in e-commerce and start-ups. Few are registering growth, less are increasing profit.

This has brought about a period of soul searching, especially amongst the big publishers, Conde Nast, Hearst, Bauer and Time Inc., whose survival relies on finding a way to maintain profits in a commercially collapsing sector. The problems for these large conglomerates and corporations is that they didn't have the nimbleness and lightness needed to navigate the changes brought on by the digital revolution as they happened, and have been stuck playing catch up since. It's not that people no longer read magazines, it's just the way they read them, like the way we consume all media, has changed. That image of a businessmam with a rolled up paper under his arm? Well these days he's probably reading the broadsheets on his smartphone.

We used to buy publications to get the "news" - now we get the "news" instantly, online. The idea of heading to print media for breaking news, or to keep updated on what's going on, feels incredibly archaic. Instead we turn to websites (still, often the websites of those established publications) daily, hourly, on our smartphones on our way to work or in the queue for lunch, we scan headlines in our news feeds on Facebook or Twitter and receive live, visual updates on events via Instagram. Snapchat, once purely for sharing images you'd rather not let live on forever, is harnessing news organisations to provide its users with stories alongside their disappearing pics. Facebook is branching out into what it calls "Instant Articles" meaning you don't even have to click away to get a BuzzFeed listicle or an editorial opinion from The New York Times.

The fashion industry's movements may be cyclical and seasonal, but the world is a constantly refreshing infinite scroll these days, and the idea of only receiving a dose of what's going on once a month just doesn't hold up, let alone every six months. The media is speeding up like a man falling off a building, reaching terminal velocity, and just waiting for the impact. News is old before it's barely had a chance to settle, it rolls away into the graveyard of old social posts within a few days; these new forms of media are all about live blogging, instant updates, knee-jerk reaction and rolling coverage. It might be perfectly suited to the bustling attention economy that fashion weeks demands, but as Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz decried recently, where's the time to think or contemplate amongst the pandemonium?

It's no surprise then that the dominant trend of the next few years might be a move away from the all-year-long-fashion-week towards a sleeker, streamlined, fashion future. It started last Friday, with news that Burberry, Tom Ford, and Vetements (all very different houses) were opting out of that traditional fashion cycle, searching for a new model that combines the attention economy that fashion week demands with instant shopability. This only raises more questions for publishers though; what season are we shooting? By the time most stylists get their hands on the clothes, they're already a few months out of date in the news cycle. It makes sense to strike whilst the iron is hot and the world is focussed on the product. How the magazines will approach this remains to be seen. It's hard to say, but a changing fashion week schedule could have as much impact on the printed magazine as the internet did.

The irrelevance of printed news to a seasonal publication has allowed the printed fashion magazine to blossom into something different. A luxury item ideally suited to fashion's paradoxical relationship between permanence and transience; disposable, always changing, quickly out of date; yet also a fashion magazine at its best is a relic or time capsule a window onto a world at a certain time, not just the fashion world, but music, culture, art, life, everything… It is a place for the best writers, photographers and artists to express themselves; a great magazine is something to cherish and spend time with and soak up, to return to again and again, not something to stick in the recycling. Magazines like Love, Arena Homme +, Pop, Man About Town, System, 032c, Tank, Fantastic Man, Gentlewoman are all going from strength to strength, editorially speaking, producing wonderful, beautiful in depth editorials and cultural coverage.

It's hard to say though, exactly how well these magazines are doing financially. Most aren't audited for sales figures, meaning they can still sell advertising for high numbers, propping up their business models. It was this predicament that caused the The Face to close in 2004. Owned by EMAP, its circulation troubles were public (whereas everyone else could massage the numbers) and so it could get less money for advertising, and was stuck in a vicious cycle that ended with the publication being closed.

PricewaterhouseCoopers predict that between now and 2019, magazine's revenue will stagnate (better than shrinking I guess) growing just 0.2%, offsetting declining revenue in sales and advertising with growth in new, growing middle-class markets like India, Brazil, China, Mexico. Whilst print sales and advertising revenue will continue to decline, digital advertising will continue to grow, so it might just be a case of who can wait it out and survive until new business models become viable, when new forms of digital revenue allow them to survive.

Technology is shaping the future of fashion publishing's print survival. A publication's reach is no longer limited to those who click on its website or flick through its pages. It's influence is spread now via the stylists who post their shoots on Instagram, photographers who Tumblr their outtakes and archives, writers whose opinions seep out on Twitter, fans who blog and repost and critique and discuss in forums -- if the current battle in fashion publishing is over millennials, those who will be the future market for the goods the fashion industry sells, it'll be a battle for influence fought on social media and below the line as much as it will be fought over circulation numbers and websites hits.

The fashion industry is banking on this, because the supposedly most popular model for advertising to millennials is native, ie the advertorial, the paid for editorial content subtly slipped in amongst everything else. We've all got AdBlocker on our computers, or at least, we click off the pop ups before we read them and willfully ignore the banner ads as mere hindrance to the content we want to access.

To add into the mix, many people growing up and coming of age now will not, when they think of magazines, think of paper, pages, hard copies, glossy pics and cover stars, they will think websites, screens, hyperlinks, and image galleries. This works both ways though, the millennials' borrowed nostalgia for a un-lived "golden age" of magazine publishing might just spur people on to keep the form alive, in the way it kept the vinyl record alive.

There's a thriving world of zine publishing, often printed purely out of the love for the format, Mushpit, Buffalo Zine, Hot + Cool, LAW, for example. This is the generation intent on keeping the torch burning for the unique window onto the world fashion magazines can provide.

Fashion publishing, like the industry itself, might be in a state of flux but it's hardly dieing. The split between online and print has freed the magazines up to create something luxurious, slow, and considered; the print magazine gives space in an industry, recently at least, that's been having an existential crisis about speed and pressure.

Notably, many of those most exciting magazines have little to no online presence. Instead of battling with each other for hits they are battling over the best stories, fashion, photographers, stylists and writers to create something beautiful. The fashion magazine as a concept is in rude creative health, even if the economics might not stack up 100%.


Text Felix Petty 
Photography via