Ad Age's 2014 Magazine A-List: See All the Winners
It's clear that the business of magazines is under pressure, but they continue to exert an outsized influence on culture, food, politics and more. Despite the business challenges, they're still sexy. Articles become movies and editors become celebrities. A short blurb turns a product into a sensation. Making a magazine's best-of list fills restaurants' reservations. And if a magazines gets a big story wrong, the ripples can quickly become a tidal wave.
Meanwhile, many of the world's biggest brands want to see their ads in print, where advertising actually enhances the overall experience. That's unlike TV or digital media, where in many cases consumers are doing everything they can -- even paying extra money -- to avoid advertisements.
In 2002, Ad Age introduced its Magazine A-List to honor this singular form of media. Since then the magazine world has changed dramatically as advertisers, still their primary source of revenue, began shifting budgets to digital media. Magazines are now moving quickly to adapt. And they're poised to emerge from the economic shadow as more than just ink on paper products -- sometimes much more. Magazines are brands, and the successful ones will figure out what that means in a post-print world.
This year's list recognizes magazines for their traditional achievements in 2014 -- print ad pages, subscriptions, newsstand sales -- but puts a premium on how the titles are adapting to this new order. It honors titles, for example, that excelled online, sold ancillary products like branded neighborhoods(!) or spread throughout other media from their springboard in print. And yet for many honorees, the magazine that started it all remains a very lucrative business, not to mention the soul of the brand.
Here is Ad Age's 2014 Magazine A List:
Wired continues to make money from digital while maintaining a top print product. In May, it ran a native ad for Netflix that set a new standard for quality content-marketing. Native advertising contributes about 30% of ad revenue at Wired, where digital already makes up half of sales. On the editorial side, Editor-in-Chief Scott Dadich landed a major exclusive with an Edward Snowden interview.
9. Sports Illustrated
Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp has lauded Sports Illustrated for finding new ways to offset print declines. Sure, Publisher Brendan Ripp is the boss's son, but the elder Mr. Ripp makes a good point. In 2014, Sports Illustrated introduced digital-video franchises, invested in a streaming sports network and created a fantasy-sports app. It also scored a major LeBron James scoop and had its thickest Swimsuit Issue since the 80s.
8. Harper's Bazaar
Hearst's fashion title turned in its most profitable year yet, with print ad pages up 5% through November. Its September issue was the largest issue in the magazine's 147-year history. Digital was spry as well. Ad revenue across its website was up 75%, with help from native ads. On Pinterest, it has 4.7 million followers -- four times Vogue, InStyle, Elle, Glamour, Marie Claire and W combined.
7. Southern Living
Southern Living is regional in name but big in audience and ambition. It's among the nation's 20 largest magazines by circulation, at nearly 3 million, and single-copy sales were up 2% through the first half of the year. But its moves beyond the page and screen are most impressive. There are, for example, Southern Living-branded neighborhoods and house plans, a custom-builder program and a hotels collection, all boosting revenue at the Time Inc.-owned magazine.
Bicycling magazine, part of Rodale Inc., is capitalizing on cycling's moment as more than just a sport for spandex-clad enthusiasts. Delivering useful content for hard-core bicyclists and casual riders is no easy task, but Editor-in-Chief Bill Strickland has been up to it. Publisher Zack Grice is extending the title's ad base, capturing new ad dollars from brands like Movado and Lexus. Print ad pages surged 20% through November. Newsstand sales swelled 16% through June.
5. Marie Claire
While several magazines trimmed frequency and cut legacy budgets, Hearst's Marie Claire introduced three seasonal editions of Branché, a "pop-up" magazine distributed in New York and L.A. The Hearst title also had some fun with its cover, including a five-page origami design in May sponsored by Maybelline and a working zipper on its August edition that revealed the denim issue sponsored by Guess. The magazine's September issue was the largest in its 20-year history in the U.S.
The magazine for entrepreneurs celebrated its 35th anniversary last year and feels more relevant than ever, thanks to the business world's startup fever. Editor-in-Chief Eric Schurenberg has retooled Inc. into a glossy title aimed at a wider and younger audience, with cover stars last year who included Mark Cuban, Jessica Alba and the three young men leading Airbnb. Newsstand sales jumped 45% through June and circulation rose 7% to nearly 800,000. Print ad pages increased 6% through November.
3. Conde Nast Traveler
Condé Nast Traveler is broadening its scope beyond print, but the magazine itself remains a triumph. Under Editor-in-Chief Pilar Guzmán (Ad Age's 2014 Magazine A-List Editor of the Year), the March issue brought a dramatic redesign marked by a renewed literary sensibility and dazzling photography. The fresh look helped Publisher Bill Wackermann attract luxury advertisers outside the travel category, pushing print ad pages up 8% through November. Mr. Wackermann and his team achieved a digital coup by striking a deal with Land Rover to produce a 12-episode digital-video series.
2. New York
New York offers a way forward for weeklies trying to reinvent for the digital age. Last year, it reduced frequency to every other week. Print ad pages were down only slightly despite fewer issues, and digital ad sales are picking up the slack, accounting for half total ad revenue. Editor-in-Chief Adam Moss deftly incorporated digital franchises into print. New York won another three National Magazine Awards last year under Mr. Moss, who continues to be pitch perfect in capturing the zeitgeist in each issue.
For most magazine companies, 2014 was a difficult year. Backs
against the wall, publishers looked beyond print for growth -- to
digital media, live events, consumer products and TV deals. Vice
magazine is way ahead of them.
Read the full profile here.
Ones to watch
Expect big things in print and digital from
Cosmopolitan, which celebrates the 50th
anniversary of its first issue under Helen Gurley Brown.
Bon Appetit will look to make its own splash in
digital after absorbing Epicurious.com and creating the Food
Innovation Group at Condé Nast. A new
editor and a new publisher at Popular Mechanics are remaking the title as a hipster-approved DIY guide. And look out for Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief at The New York Times Magazine, which is introducing a redesign in early 2015.