'Vibe' Retrenches in Face of Recession

Reduces Circulation, Frequency; Staff Gets Pay Cuts, Four-Day Workweek

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Vibe magazine is cutting its paid circulation 25%, reducing its frequency to 10 issues a year from 12, and merging its print and digital editorial operations, all in the magazine industry's latest response to the twin attacks by recession and new media.

In addition to internal restructuring, Vibe is avoiding layoffs by adopting a four-day workweek accompanied by 10% to 15% pay cuts for its employees.
In addition to internal restructuring, Vibe is avoiding layoffs by adopting a four-day workweek accompanied by 10% to 15% pay cuts for its employees.
But Vibe is also departing from the standard playbook by introducing a twice-a-year newsstand-only celebrity tabloid. It plans to increase the subscription price for its flagship. And it is avoiding layoffs by adopting a four-day workweek accompanied by 10% to 15% pay cuts for its employees. The new day off, at least to start, will be Friday, though some staffing will be organized to keep the office open five days a week.

"Based on the financial climate and based on what's going on, we needed to make a tough decision," said Steve Aaron, CEO of Vibe Media Group. "We decided not to follow the old-school textbook of restructuring and instead look for ways to keep the talent in place." Employees were told of the changes in a meeting this afternoon.

The Wicks Group, a private-equity firm, bought Vibe in 2006. It quickly laid off more than 25 employees. It shuttered Vibe Vixen, a 2-year-old spinoff focused on women, the following year. (It now plans to publish Vibe Vixen and Vibe Prodigy, a parenting title, as occasional specials.)

Once a sign of weakness
Cutting paid circulation -- in Vibe's case, to 600,000 from 800,000 -- was once a sign of weakness in the eyes of advertisers and marketers, but the ad pages that bloated circulations used to attract aren't flowing like they used to. "If you're not getting as many ad pages anymore and you have less-profitable circulation that you're trying to maintain, the equation doesn't make sense anymore," said an executive at one big magazine advertiser. "Magazines would be better off getting rid of their unprofitable circulation and managing to a level where it's more profitable on a bottom-line basis. And advertisers would understand the reduction if it's told to them in the right way."

Many magazines are still expanding or maintaining their current circulation levels. But many others have decided to chop some down, resulting in circulation cuts for titles including Time, Playboy, Reader's Digest, TV Guide and others. Newsweek said on Monday that it will cut circulation twice more in coming months.

"I really am surprised that a lot of other magazines aren't doing this now," the executive said.

Vibe's ad pages dropped 17.7% last year, worse than the industry's overall decline of 11.7%, after falling 19.9% in 2007, when magazines as whole held the line, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Unique visitors to Vibe.com, however, increased 35% to 443,000 in December from 328,000 in December 2007, according to ComScore.

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