Are fashion magazines endangered?

BY MIA FREEDMAN  My phone and inbox started pinging yesterday arvo with news that Australian Vogue Editor Kirstie Clements was out. She’d been in that role for 14 years.

Almost immediately came the news that she’d been replaced by Harpers Bazaar Editor, Edwina McCann.

The magazine industry is not a big place and I know both of these women well. Have known them both for 20 years. It’s never a happy day when someone loses their job and so this post isn’t about Kirstie or Edwina – both of whom I wish well.

But the breaking news about Vogue sparked some interesting conversations among the MM editorial team yesterday. When the circulation of the two fashion magazines was reported (Vogue 51K copies per month and Bazaar 54K copies per month), my team was shocked.

To put it in perspective by way of context, Vogue ONLINE has 1.1m UBs per month. Is that the answer for Vogue and other fashion mags? To make their printed product more accessible, more like their online presence?

UPDATE:  Very possibly according to today’s interview in The Australian with new Vogue ed Edwina McCann:

Increasing print sales remains a priority, but for McCann the key trend is on the digital side of the iconic masthead, which already reaches a million unique browsers a month through its website, as well as 77,000 Facebook “friends” and 50,000 fans on social multimedia network Tumblr.

“I don’t think Vogue is just a magazine. It’s not. I’m going to be editor-in-chief of Vogue the brand,” she says. “I would like obviously to get print sales up but digital is very much a focus — digital is the long-term future.

“The idea of being editor-in-chief over not only the magazine but also the digital assets is what was so attractive about the position. But the digital assets need to be reinvigorated, potentially redesigned. The magazine is the heart and soul of the brand, but I’m just as interested in a Facebook friend.”

There is no better known fashion media brand in the world. There’s probably no better known fashion brand full stop. Vogue is iconic and has been for decades.

A Terry Richardson shot for Vogue

But magazines are haemorrhaging readers  (in print) and fashion magazines are bleeding particularly heavily.

I’m treading on dangerous ground here, according to some. Whenever I write about magazines here on Mamamia, some very vocal people in the mag industry become incensed. Comments are left. Emails are sent. Tweets are fired off. Things get nasty. The general gist of the outrage from these sources is that my career was built on magazines and I should be grateful for that. I should be loyal. I should not criticise the industry that “made” me.


I’ve always struggled with that concept. Yes, I adored magazines and worked with some incredible people including Lisa Wilkinson, Wendy Squires, Pat Ingram, Paula Joye, Deborah Thomas, Nick Chan, John Alexander and Richard Walsh who taught me so much.

I am proud of what I achieved during the 15 years I spent working in the magazine industry, particularly my time at Cosmo when I was able to further my belief that mags should be more diverse in the way they portrayed women.

I did some good things, I did some bad things and ultimately, I became frustrated, disillusioned, impatient, restless and moved on. Mags just weren’t speaking to me or inspiring me anymore. They felt increasingly disconnected from my life. And as a reader, they made me feel like shit.

I’ve always loved to work in the area of media I’m most interested in as a consumer. For many years it was magazines. Until it wasn’t. Magazines lost me as a fan, a reader and an editor. And online became my passion – both as a consumer and as a content provider.

Online is faster. It’s more real. It’s interactive. It’s free (yet another reason why readers have migrated online for their fashion information – both to magazine sites and smaller independent ones).

A Harper's Bazaar image

Print magazines are not a conversation, they’re a monologue. They’re expensive. They’re…..samey. The covers, the coverlines….the only thing that has changed much since the 90s is the amount of re-touching which has gone from minimal to insane. And beyond. Most importantly, they don’t reflect anything resembling my life or the life of anyone I know.

Who ARE these people who buy $10,000 handbags or push prams while dressed like they’re going to the Oscars (these are the ‘mother’ shoots  – surely the most condescending and ridiculous of all fashion shoot genres).

Ultimately – it doesn’t matter what I think. Not a jot. I am one person.

But I’m not alone in my disillusionment. I’m not the only one who has drifted away from magazines to online. Circulation and readership is being hammered across the board.

Now that we can comfortably read content on our phones and ipads, the portability advantage of magazines for the beach and the bath and public transport has vanished, leaving magazines in an extremely vulnerable position. They’re literally fighting for survival.

The way they come out monthly or weekly could not be more out of step from the way we all now live on the 24/7 news and social media cycle. And they’re expensive. How can that compete with unlimited online content for free that updates in real time?


So back to Vogue for a moment. Where are people getting their fashion information from these days? I like fashion very much but what I’m personally interested in is fashion as part of LIFE. Not the inspiration behind some Belgian designer’s latest catwalk show featuring models wearing one-armed jackets with no pants and shoes that look like torture devides. How does that fit into my life? How does that fit into ANYONE’s life?

I want to look at clothes on PEOPLE. Actual people. People of different shapes, sizes, skin colours and ages. People who dress THEMSELVES instead of some 16 year old size 6 model who has been dressed by a professional stylist who thinks a pair of shoes you can’t walk in or afford are ‘GENIUS’.

For a long time now, I’ve found fashion magazines to be both cold and insulting. They don’t portray clothes as expressions of PEOPLE. They don’t feature clothes as part of our lives. They don’t explore the way we feel about fashion or the way our changing lives impact upon our wardrobes.

They look at clothes as a means unto themselves. It’s aloof and it’s serious and it’s extremely inaccessible. Because who lives like that? Who goes on a 2 year waiting list for a handbag that costs as much as a car? Who buys $3000 pairs of shoes? Who cares that Miucca Prada is “feeling” mirrors and has used them as inspiration for her new range?

For me, fashion is fun. It’s a form of self-expression, it’s a treat, it’s an escape, it’s an indulgence and most importantly  it’s a way to be creative or to reflect my mood.


What it’s not is rocket science or brain surgery.

I think that’s why women are moving away from the highly-produced, over-photoshopped packaging of fashion magazines and towards the more holistic and diverse expression of style and fashion content you can find online.

It’s the reason we have launched “Wardrobe Week” where we look into the closets of ACTUAL women who dress themselves:

NOTE: I have ammended the post after taking on board many of the valid comments below pointing out that Vogue has a powerful online presence – as do many other fashion magazines including Harpers Bazaar and Grazia in particular.
Interestingly, as a consumer, I rarely associate print products with digital ones. I’m not sure why that is but I see them as very different entities.
I think there are different expectations of fashion brands online – they need to be more accessible. And the success of Vogue, Bazaar and Grazia in particular online could be an indication that consumer tastes are changing – how we want to consume fashion content as well as where.
Clearly, the challenge for mags moving forward is – as Edwina pointed out in her interview excerpted above – is to merge those two entities. Then print circulation (and its associated revenue) becomes far less relevant.


Keen to hear from you. Where do you get your fashion information from? What influences the way you dress or shop?