The Problem with Vogue’s September Issue

I tweeted the following question in late July: Vogue US’ September Issue will be their biggest yet, with 658 pages of ads. Does it really matter, if their print circulation is going down? 

Turns out I was wrong about the print circulation (it’s actually steady year on year), but there are still other questions to be answered.

All in, the September issue of US Vogue weighs 4.5 pounds (and is even causing issues for US Postal Service workers!) and has a total of 916 pages.  So let’s get this straight – 916 total pages in the book and 658 of those pages are advertising.  71% advertising.  Obviously this is a great deal for Vogue –  it’s their largest issue to date, which they put a lot of PR against and more importantly,  their September issue enables them to generate a lot of ad revenue in a declining market.

Is it a good deal for advertisers? For readers?

It appears that advertisers are persuaded by a quantity argument. The September issue of Vogue, as well as for other fashion print books, is traditionally the largest issue of the year, followed closely by March. They know that people who are might occasionally buy Vogue or one of its glossy competitors are more likely to buy in September, when they know they’ll get an update on the trends for the year to come… or so the old argument goes. I think this is less true in the digital age, when you can easily check out the numerous fashion and styles blogs for an instant update.

The other argument, which holds more weight,  is that Vogue is still a trusted curator of fashion and style, especially to older, affluent female audiences. This makes sense, given that the Vogue US reader has a median age of 37.4,  is 89% female and has a median household income of USD $63,000. September is the big moment to reach as many of these readers as possible.  Vogue’s current print circulation is 1,248,121, which is steady year on year.

Are readers persuaded by this quality argument?  Glossed Over has a great live-blog post of her reading the September 2012 edition of Vogue and includes this gem: “THERE ARE A LOT OF ADS. So many ads I’m actually looking forward to getting to the content… There are twenty pages of ads between the first and second pages of Wintour’s letter, and another twenty pages of ads between the second and third pages. Good call, Vogue. It’s really easy to read a dozen paragraphs when you spread them over forty pages.”

The majority of people buy magazines for the content, not to see advertising. In my view, great ads are a bonus. This trend of blockbuster issues of fashion glossies is already feels gimmicky. In a world where people just want to get to the great content, I wonder how much longer fashion books will be able to play this ‘biggest issue ever’ game, without backing it up with at least a 50% advertising to content ratio.

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