By Allie Zoranski
Every month, when American fashionistas receive their favorite fashion magazines in the mail, they get a smiling celebrity on the cover along with glossy ads and the scent of perfume.
Across the pond, however, style-savvy Europeans flock to newsstands to purchase the latest issue. And in most cases, they won’t see a celebrity on the cover. Particularly in France, if a celebrity is featured, it’s because she’s doing something pertaining to fashion, or she’s involved in a project that is more newsworthy than Miley Cyrus sticking her tongue out again.
Today, print magazine sales in the U.S. are on the decline. Customers are frustrated with ad saturation and the overemphasis on the famous and celebrated, or even those who are famous for being famous.
American readers are excited when their favorite magazine is thicker than usual. They think they are getting more that month from the publication they have been waiting to receive. However, extra articles mean extra ads. In actuality, readers are not getting as much bonus content as they think. But the advertising is a necessity for magazines.
According to Mark Vamos, a former magazine editor who teaches Magazine Writing at SMU, U.S. publications do not sell many newsstand copies. Therefore, magazines need to rely on advertising to make money. “American magazines have more subscription revenue,” he says.
Currently, one can subscribe to Vogue for just $6. This price includes six months of both print and tablet versions with immediate digital access.
This scenario is very different in Europe, where magazines have very low subscription numbers. European magazines can afford to use fewer ads, since they are not losing money due to discounted subscription deals. “Europeans have a different business model,” says Vamos.
For American readers who are annoyed with flipping through 46 pages of the latest Glamour magazine before reaching content, consider the French and UK editions: It will only take 13 and 20 pages, respectively, in their September issues.
It’s good that America has an obsession with Hollywood because U.S. readers find celebrities not only in advertisements but also on the cover and in feature articles.
Dan Howard is a Cox professor and expert on consumer behavior. “America dominates the celebrity scene. The culture relies on Hollywood,” he says.
Editors’ opinions drive content. They look at what material has sold well for the magazine and include material that consumers liked. For America, this is largely centered on entertainment.
In a time where editors are trying to figure out a winning concept to sell more magazines, they rely on celebrities because that is what sold in the past.
Howard explains three factors for the success of celebrities selling product: “First, when you have a celebrity involved, they capture the attention because they are recognizable. Next, a celebrity represents a certain image, and a company wants that image to rub off on their brand. Lastly, Americans believe that a celebrity would not endorse a produce if they did not believe in the product.”
European magazines offer more diversity in the people who appear in their pages. In France, models are used the most frequently, but there are also many average people included. French Glamour has an entire section devoted to recognizing non-celebrities called “Génération Glamour.” This method of including different types of people keeps the focus of the magazine on style, while also staying relatable to the reader.
The United States and Europe are very different culturally, and the content in each edition reflects this difference. The UK and French versions of Glamour contain longer written pieces. Also, they contain more variety in the subjects covered.
Sandra Sáenz studied abroad in France this past summer. She says Europeans seem to have more interest in quality information than Americans by stating, “Europeans are more globally aware.”
European fashion magazine readers expect more from their magazines. Their magazine of choice is an informational outlet to live out the particular lifestyle of that brand. In contrast, entertainment centric Americans want to feel closer to their favorite celebrities, so they wish to hear about what products that celebrity recommends, what is new in her life and how she styles a trend.
For example, UK and French Glamour contain sections that recommend and review films, books, music and television shows. French Glamour also has a large section devoted to lifestyle, where travel, recipes, hot spots and interior decorating are discussed.
Also, for a fashion magazine, American Glamour contains the smallest percentage of content in its fashion section with 56 percent. The France version had 69 percent, and UK had 66 percent.
Magazine sales are down, and American fashion magazines are looking for ways to freshen up their brand and connect to readers better. Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Glamour all underwent redesigns in early 2012.
Glamour’s editor-in-chief Cindi Leive said in an interview with FOLIO that she noticed her magazine was too generic. “Every single magazine was a girl on a white background. I could not find my own magazine. That shows the homogeneity out there. It was time to mix it up.”
Glamour incorporated more lifelike covers with actual backgrounds. The inside of the magazine also became more visual. With the popularity of Pinterest and Instagram, Glamour wanted to make social media more relevant, so they incorporated a social media page that features favorite social media pictures. Layouts also became more visual. Articles have a cleaner look because the pictures break up the article and the page is not cluttered with words.
Leive described the redesign: “It has a more raw, real and unfiltered vibe. As for images, we’re living in a culture that gives way to the rise of the personal. Our readers care about celebrities, but we also showcase clothes in the fashion pages featuring our own editors.”
While most readers were receptive and new advertisers signed on to the magazine, some did not like the changes. A poll taken by the Huffington Post when the redesign was launched showed that 57.1 percent of respondents did not like the new version. They said it looked like a “teen magazine gone wrong.”
Redesigns are a result of trying to revamp a brand to make it more attractive to customers. It is a trial and error process. While that makes it seem like print magazines are a sinking ship, Vamos thinks that the move to digital forms is not inevitable.
“Magazines are a better candidate for survival than any other print media form. There is a lot that is inherently pleasant about holding a magazine,” Vamos says.
Readers hold more power than ever over the content that is included in magazines because companies want to make their product the most appealing to customers so sales rise.
People are looking for something that is different from what they’ve seen before. They are looking for something they can connect to.
Fashion Media student Myca Williamson notes, “I look for diversity. I think that readers want to see a piece of themselves in everything they read I am beginning to see more models featured that have a body that more women can personally identify with.”
Since cultures have various values, no one country’s magazine format will likely replace another. However, if a person is dissatisfied with what she sees on the newsstand, or receives in the mail, she can look for different options in the foreign editions of favorite magazines. Ultimately, readers are in control of what they read.