NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Is September now the cruelest month? It may very well be for fashion and beauty titles this year. The final tallies for those crucial issues are emerging -- and for almost every one of the titles, results are terrible.
Magazines' big hope, and sustaining belief right now, is that the declines stem almost entirely from the recession, not from any long-term shift in consumer or advertiser demand. At Conde Nast, which has built its identity almost as much as its balance sheets around September issues over the years, the recession had better be the main culprit.
Ad pages in the September issue of W fell 53% from last September, according to the company's report Tuesday morning. Allure saw pages fall 52%, Self gave up 51%, Glamour lost 42%, Vogue arrived down 37%, Details lost 35%, and GQ and Teen Vogue each lost 32% (see graphic).
Those titles were hurt by the absence of the Fashion Rocks supplement this year, so Conde also provided comparisons to last September as if Fashion Rocks never existed. But those comparisons were still pretty grim: By that measure, W fell 47%, for example; Vogue fell 30%, Allure lost 28% and Glamour lost 25%.
The September ad-page picture isn't much better at other publishers. Ad pages in Hachette Filipacchi's September issue of Elle fell 21% short of last September. Harper's Bazaar, part of Hearst, said its September issue will arrive down 23% to 26%. Hearst's Cosmopolitan is estimating 150 ad pages will run in its September issue, down 18% from last year's total if you include a Cosmo Style & Beauty supplement last year that carried 9 ad pages; excluding that supplement, Cosmo's September ad pages fell 14%. Marie Claire, another Hearst title, said its September ad pages fell 20%. Essence, part of Time Inc., will run 16% fewer ad pages in September. The big outlier so far appears to be Time Inc.'s InStyle, which said Tuesday its September issue will actually run 2% more ad pages than last September.
Looking for good news
The publishers with declines weren't happy about it but looked for what good news they could. "Six months ago we were optimistic there could be a turnaround," said Bill Wackerman, senior VP-publishing director at Glamour and Conde Nast Bridal Media. "That did not materialize. But business has stabilized. The reality is that it's not as grim as one would have it. Most of the brands that were in September last year are there again. It's just the volume has decreased."
Magazines are also not the only media struggling with a wicked recession, publishers noted. Digital-ad sales have reversed their formerly white-hot growth and are falling. The TV networks' upfront sales effort is at an impasse because buyers want deep discounts, while networks don't want to cut too much if the economy might improve relatively soon.
It looks increasingly likely, unfortunately, that recovery remains far off. Conde Nast warned staffers on Monday that it had hired McKinsey to help it make cuts, citing an economy "now predicted to be painfully slow in recovering."
"This is not about magazines, this is about the recession," said Lou Cona, senior VP at the Conde Nast Media Group, after Conde released its September ad-page counts on Tuesday. "Given the media recession and the overall economic recession, I think we are incredibly proud."
"The reason why you're seeing these negative numbers posted is not because there's a problem with our magazines or any other magazines," Mr. Cona added. "It's because our clients' businesses are impacted at retail. Circulation is up, readership is up, engagement is up."