What Did 2020 Do to Print Magazines?

When the pandemic hit, some media analysts warned it would speed up the decline of print magazines, predicting that more titles would fold or scrap print to focus on digital operations, while those left would continue to trim frequency.

But as 2020 draws to a close, what exactly did happen to print magazines this year as advertisers slashed marketing budgets amid the pandemic and resulting economic fallout and producing shoots, especially high-fashion ones, became almost impossible in certain months?

In an analysis of 45 U.S.-based titles, WWD found that 26, or 58 percent, had a lower print frequency this year compared to 2019; two have ceased print operations for good and another is on hiatus with print under review. Only two publications increased frequency.

Out of the big three publishers — Hearst Magazines, Condé Nast and Meredith Corp. — the former appears to have resorted to shrinking print the most. While Esquire was quietly reduced from eight issues to six pre-COVID-19, Hearst decreased the frequency of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Elle Decor, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Town & Country as the deadly virus spread around the world. Some of these — especially Marie Claire, which was cut from 11 to seven — focused instead on digital covers, while the publisher ramped up its online paywall program, introducing memberships for the likes of Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Women’s Health.

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While O, The Oprah Magazine, a venture between Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Inc. and Hearst Magazines, didn’t adjust frequency in 2020, it will shrink from 12 to four issues next year, although a source close to Hearst stressed that this decision was not COVID-19 related but down to Winfrey’s desire to stop appearing on the cover after two decades of doing so.

Not all of these changes will be permanent, though, as it’s understood that Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire will increase frequency in 2021. Bazaar, led by new editor in chief Samira Nasr, will return to 10 issues, but figures were not made available for the other two titles.

“Every year, we review publishing frequency across our portfolio in the context of the brands’ touch points across print, digital, social and video,” a Hearst spokeswoman said. “While the pandemic played a role in our overall planning for 2020, many of the changes were made last year as part of our strategy to improve the quality of our products, balance content across all of the important distribution channels and deepen the relationship with our audience.”

And despite these changes, print appears to still be an important focus for Hearst, with it just naming O’s longtime editor in chief Lucy Kaylin vice president of print content of its magazines division.

Condé Nast also trimmed frequency at a few titles, but not nearly as much. Vogue published 11 issues this year instead of 12 for the first time by combining June and July, but the title’s spokesperson insisted it will be back to its regular print schedule next year. Vanity Fair and Allure also published one issue less — it’s not known how many issues Vanity Fair will produce next year, but Allure, which has long been plagued by rumors that it could follow Glamour as a digital-only brand, will stick to 10, its 2020 tally.

Bon Appétit, the food magazine that this year was hit by allegations of a discriminatory workplace and saw its editor in chief Adam Rapoport ousted, managed to keep its frequency at 2019 levels, as did Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler, while GQ added an extra issue.

One Condé Nast title not included in the list of magazines analyzed by WWD is Love, the biannual publication set up by Katie Grand in partnership with the publisher in 2009, as it was until recently based in London. It was revealed in November that following Grand’s exit, the title will move to New York, with Whembley Sewell, editor in chief of Them, set to take charge. No official statement has been made on the future of the print product, but it’s understood that the main focus next year will be social media and video.

As for Meredith, which became the U.S.’s largest magazine publisher following its $2.8 billion acquisition of Time Inc., only two of its titles cut print frequency, but both of those decisions occurred pre-pandemic, according to the Des Moines, Iowa-based company. Entertainment Weekly, which just shed its top editor JD Heyman, went from a bi-weekly publication to a monthly one in the summer of 2019 — the same year that it was decided that Meredith’s Southern Living Brand would decrease from 13 issues to 12.

People, the reason many believe Meredith purchased Time Inc., did not make any changes to its schedule, while InStyle appears to be the only women’s fashion magazine that did not alter frequency in 2020.

“We certainly looked at [frequency changes], but we decided that the consumer strategy that we had was going to override any advertising shortfalls in the near term anyway,” said Doug Olson, president of Meredith Magazines. “The only thing that we’ve done to alter any schedules has been some one-off book-azines that we would do for movie releases…we held onto some of those one-off things but [it was due] to Hollywood pretty much being closed.”

An interesting point to note is Hearst made the most changes to frequency, but the least in terms of headcount and pay when it came to saving costs amid the pandemic. To date its only mass layoff was 59 staffers at O. In contrast, Condé Nast implemented pay cuts, laid off 100 staffers and furloughed the same amount, while Meredith let go of 180 staffers across the whole business (50 layoffs occurred at its magazine arm), cut pay and paused the dividend. Both companies have since restored full pay.

Outside of the big three, there were changes at a number of titles, including a few ceasing print operations entirely. The first to take action was Playboy, which revealed early on in the crisis that it would cease print editions as the economic disruptions from COVID-19 were too much for its already strained print operations to bear, while California Sunday Magazine is shutting down print and digital operations after Emerson Collective, a foundation started by Laurene Powell Jobs, pulled its funding.

Paper, most famous for “breaking the Internet” with the help of a half-naked Kim Kardashian West, also halted print operations in May and it’s unknown if it will restart. W Magazine, too, went on hiatus, but it is back now after Bustle Digital Group took over operations from Future Media Group, planning six issues for 2021.

Time Out New York, meanwhile, was not included in the analysis as it was not possible to find out the exact number of magazines it published in 2019 and 2020. What is known, though, is that it typically published twice a month until pausing print in March. That’s understood to now be under review.

Elsewhere, WSJ. Magazine, the monthly fashion and luxury-focused insert of the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal, plans to shrink from 12 issues in 2019 to eight in 2021, with a renewed focus on digital. Its 2020 tally came to 11, having skipped August. Explaining the move in a previous interview with WWD, WSJ.’s new publisher Luke Bahrenburg said advertisers are shifting further to digital as they focus on e-commerce operations, a trend that was already in play but has been exacerbated by COVID-19. “I think it would be naive to say that COVID-19 hasn’t shifted the way we’re thinking just as much as it has certainly disrupted and changed our key advertising partners in luxury brands. Their business has changed. This allows us to be much more responsive,” he said.

In contrast, rival T Magazine, part of The New York Times, did not and does not plan to make any changes. Nor did The New York Times Magazine. Vox Media’s New York Magazine was also among those that didn’t make any changes.

The remaining list of those that reduced frequency in 2020 are Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal, Time, Forbes, Fortune, The Atlantic, C Magazine and Out. The latter, owned by Pride Media, dropped from eight to six issues, but the decision predated the pandemic. Only Out, Forbes and Fortune confirmed their 2021 print plans, with six issues each for the first two and eight for the latter.

In the other direction was Stephen Gan’s V, which published seven issues versus six in 2019.



Magazine (Publisher) 2019 2020 2021
Allure (Condé Nast) 11 10 10
Architectural Digest (Condé Nast) 11 11 11
Bon Appétit (Condé Nast) 10 10 10
C Magazine (C Publishing) 12 11 4
California Sunday Magazine (Emerson Collective) 6 2 0
Condé Nast Traveler (Condé Nast) 8 8 8
Cosmopolitan (Hearst) 12 10 Unknown
Country Living (Hearst) 10 10 Unknown
Elle (Hearst) 12 10 Unknown
Elle Decor (Hearst) 10 9 Unknown
Esquire (Hearst) 8 6 6
Entertainment Weekly (Meredith) 22 12 12
Forbes (Forbes Media) 9 6 6
Fortune (Fortune Media) 12 10 8
Good Housekeeping (Hearst) 12 10 Unknown
GQ (Condé Nast) 10 11 Unknown
Harper’s Bazaar (Hearst) 10 9 10
InStyle (Meredith) 12 12 12
Marie Claire (Hearst) 11 7 Unknown
Martha Stewart Living (Meredith) 10 10 10
Men’s Health (Hearst) 10 10 Unknown
Men’s Journal (AMI) 11 6 Unknown
New York Magazine (Vox) 26 26 26
O, The Oprah Magazine (Hearst) 12 12 4
Out (Pride Media) 8 6 6
Paper (ENTtech) 4 1 Unknown
People (Meredith) 52 52 52
Playboy (Playboy Enterprises) 4 2 0
Real Simple (Meredith) 12 12 12
Shape (Meredith) 10 10 10
Southern Living (Meredith) 13 12 12
Sports Illustrated (Maven) 32 21 22
T Magazine (The New York Times) 11 11 11
The Atlantic (Atlantic Media) 11 10 Unknown
The New York Times Magazine (NYT) 52 52 52
The New Yorker (Condé Nast) 48 48 48
Time (Marc Benioff) 52 48 Unknown
Town & Country (Hearst) 10 9 Unknown
V (Stephen Gan) 6 7 6
Vanity Fair (Condé Nast) 12 11 Unknown
Vogue (Condé Nast) 12 11 12
W (BDG) 8 4 6
Wired (Condé Nast) 11 11 Unknown
Women’s Health (Hearst) 10 10 Unknown
WSJ. (Dow Jones) 12 11 8

For more, see:

Some Magazines Suffering Amid Pandemic, Online and Off

Low in Print This Summer: Magazines

How Will the Coronavirus Impact Already Fragile Glossy Magazine Print Ads?

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