Some Magazines Suffering Amid Pandemic, Online and Off

During a year that’s seen a pandemic, economic fallout, an ongoing social justice movement and a presidential election like no other, magazine media has had plenty to contend with. But some titles have fared much better than others.

Nearly 40 percent of magazines that publish on at least a quarterly basis have seen their audience’s decline so far this year, according to updated data from the Alliance for Audited Media, which tracks the performance of such publications. That’s on top of a major pullback in advertising this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the related contraction of the global economy.

Of the major magazines from publishers such as Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith, 15 major titles saw their audiences decline or remain flat through the third quarter, so nearly all the months of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S so far, compared to the same period last year. But that leaves 20 titles that actually saw audiences grow. 

At Condé Nast, which conducted more layoffs this year, Allure, GQ and Vogue have all seen overall audience numbers decline, according to AAM data. Allure, which is still rumored to be up for some kind of shift away from print, either with fewer issues or going digital-only like Glamour, has seen its overall audience fall by more than 5 percent so far this year, to a monthly average audience of 18.2 million. Readers of its print magazine or online magazine editions have fallen by 16 percent and video viewers are down by just under 6 percent.

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Similarly, GQ’s audience decline of 9 percent, to 22.2 million, looks related to its loss of magazine readers, down by 8 percent, and video viewers, down by 13 percent. Over at Vogue, Condé’s biggest source of revenue and still run by Anna Wintour, the fashion title’s audience has fallen by 2 percent, to 30.8 million, compared to last year. The decline is due to an 11 percent lag in magazine readers and 9 percent decline in video views.

Vanity Fair has so far managed to eke out audience growth, but it sits at an increase of just 1 percent, to an average of 37 million, compared to last year. But VF’s first and second quarter’s saw double-digit audience growth, amid the magazine being hailed as a true champion of diversity under editor in chief Radhika Jones. Print and digital readers are now down nearly 5 percent and video views are down nearly 6 percent.

But Condé has some bright spots with the growth of Architectural Digest, The New Yorker and Wired. 

AD under editor in chief Amy Astley has seen consistent growth throughout the year so far, and has even seen print readers go up 1 percent. It’s overall audience is up by 25 percent, to an average of 14.7 million, led by a 48 percent increase in online readers and a 44 percent increase in mobile readers. Meanwhile Wired, which this year moved more into e-commerce on its web site, has seen its overall audience grow by just under 7 percent, to a monthly average of about 27.4 million. It’s also seen print readership grow by 16 percent.

At the New Yorker, which has written extensively on this year’s election and the myriad mistakes of the Trump administration, including its lack of leadership around the ongoing pandemic, has seen its overall audience grow by just under 16 percent, to an average of 23.3 million. Its audience is up across print, web, mobile and video, but led by web traffic, which is up by more than 23 percent compared to last year. 

Condé’s remaining cooking title Bon Appetit saw its audience grow by 14.8 percent to an average of 32 million, led by a 31 percent increase in web traffic, despite staff issues around diversity and pay equity that played out publicly on social media. Its former editor in chief Adam Rapoport also had to step down over an image that came to light of him in brownface, along with accusations of running a discriminatory workplace.

In addition to The New Yorker, another standout in the news category is The Atlantic, majority owned by Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective. The Atlantic’s audience has grown 40 percent so far this year to an average of 35 million, led by 28 percent growth online, according to AAM. The publication previously told WWD its September story on Donald Trump’s negative comments about members of the U.S. military was one of its most read ever, and that its new subscription strategy has led to more than 300,000 new subscribers this year. Nevertheless, the publication laid off nearly 20 percent of staff early on in the pandemic.

But it’s not news alone that’s leading to audience growth. Time magazine has seen readership numbers drop by 6 percent, to an average monthly audience of about 38 million, according to AMM, after seeing growth earlier this year. Meanwhile, The Economist’s audience is up by 14 percent, to an average of 5.5 million, and Fast Company’s is up by 32 percent, to 12.5 million.

Over at Hearst Magazines, which this year saw president Troy Young removed shortly after long whispered about issues of his behavior at work and at work events became public in a New York Times report, audiences have remained a bit steadier. But there are exceptions.

Magazines in that category include Cosmopolitan, which has seen its audience fall from growth to negative territory over the course of the year. It’s currently at a 1 percent decline in audience, falling to 41.4 million on average, after being at an increase of more than 6 percent in March. Print edition readers have fallen by more than 8 percent, after also starting off in positive territory, and web readers have only ticked up by 2 percent this year. 

Another title that’s lost readers is Esquire. While its overall audience is still up by a little over 1 percent compared to last year, at 15.5 million, before the coronavirus hit its audience was up by 11 percent. Similarly situated is Harper’s Bazaar, under the new leadership of Samira Nasr. The magazine is at 2 percent audience growth right now, at just under 17 million, but it’s shrunk dramatically since March, when its audience was up by almost 36 percent. Increases in video and mobile views have also declined over the course of the year.

Elsewhere at Hearst, things seem to be holding on. Its magazines are now under the leadership of Debi Chirichella, who sources now expect to remain in the position permanently, although she’s still technically operating on an interim basis.

Good Housekeeping, one of the oldest magazines in publication at 135 years old, has been one of Hearst’s best performers so far during the pandemic. Its overall audience is up by just over 37 percent to 58.7 million, according to AAM data, with growth in web of 98 percent and video of 67 percent. Next up is the Oprah Winfrey magazine O, which overhauled its web site this year and cut down print to a quarterly basis. While print readership has, as expected, gone down by 9 percent, the overall audience is up 32 percent to 17 million, with online growth of 176 percent compared to last year.

Other Hearst titles to see steady overall audience growth this year include Elle, up by 15 percent at 20 million, and Town & Country, up by 10 percent at 13.8 million.

At Meredith, which has had some extensive layoffs this year related to the pandemic and a related pullback in advertising revenue, several magazines have seen audiences shrink over the course of the year. 

InStyle’s audience is down by nearly six percent compared to last year, to 13.4 million; Martha Stewart Living down by 4 percent to 13 million; Eating Well by 5 percent to 9.8 million; Better Homes & Gardens by 3 percent to 39.5 million, and Magnolia Journal, the quarterly from Joanna and Chip Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame, is down by 7 percent to 6.6 million.

Even People magazine, the reason Meredith acquired the former Time Inc., has seen its audience dip by just under 4 percent, although it’s still massive at 91 million. The decline is led by a decrease in video and a drop in print readers. The pandemic has kept celebrities largely indoors and without new projects to promote, likely leaving People with less content than it had last year.

But there is some growth at the publisher. Keeping with the largely forced pandemic trend of cooking at home, Food & Wine has managed 20 percent audience growth compared to 2019, led by a 128 percent jump in video and a 20 percent increase in web views. Similarly Health magazine is at 11 percent overall audience growth, and Travel + Leisure is at 9 percent. 

Meredith chief executive officer Tom Harty said early this month that the publisher is only now starting to see tentative signs of an advertising comeback.

“Some categories remain soft due to COVID-19, including auto, travel and entertainment,” Harty noted. “That said, the reopening of the U.S. economy in recent months is driving improving trends in certain categories, including pharma, beauty, home and online retail.”

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