The Fashion Mediascape

What's Happening with Condé Nast?

Key Takeaways

  1. Condé Nast’s global merger may make the publisher profitable at the risk of diluting its content across local publications across the world. The publication promises to represent more diverse voices but whether it will be able to deliver is yet to be seen.
  2. Independent fashion publications are able to engage with a diverse and fiercely loyal audience since they are often not influenced by corporate advertisers. These small-run publications use print to attract customers instead of to net money. Revenue is brought in through other joint ventures such as branded content, events, and the establishment of creative agencies.
  3. Print media may never again replicate the readership or success of its past. Yet a new generation of independent fashion publishers is creating stimulating content for customers that seek writing with a critical edge. Mainstream media should take note by ushering in new talent of its own.

Condé Nast’s recent move towards global unification has upended the mainstream fashion editorial world. After appointing Anna Wintour as the Global Chief Content Officer, the mass media company has sought to unify content for its publications across regions around the world including Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, and others. This move has restructured the way content is created and then distributed across local publications. Following a challenging period for print media made worse by the pandemic, the publisher aims to achieve its goal of returning to profitability by 2022. Although this realignment may solve issues related to shrinking revenue, it’s undoubtedly changed fashion media for good.

Gone are the days of the celebrity fashion editor due to “shrinking media budgets and the decline of print.” (Slate) Today’s iteration of the fashion editor must wear multiple hats across multiple publications. Broadening the role of the fashion editor while “the publisher has cut costs as it invests in digital and video,” has irrevocably changed the landscape for the entire industry. As many of these publications become unified under one head, there’s been a mass exodus of Editors in Chief who have left their respective publications. A select few have been appointed to helm these consolidated tomes, such as British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, named European Editorial Director. Enninful who is black has upheld diversity at his publication and is expected to be Wintour’s successor. Similarly, Will Welch the American Editor in Chief of GQ  has been named global editorial director with Adam Baidawi the editor of GQ Middle East, appointed as Deputy Editor. By combining the magazines, the publisher expects that each local publication will no longer compete for its share of the advertising budget. Instead, each global editor in chief will be responsible for determining the creation and delivery of content that will then be tailored for specific locations in a top-bottom approach. This is Condé Nast’s solution to a problem faced by publications across the board.

GQ's global issue, September 2021.

Print media’s heyday may be a thing of the past, as the estimated revenue of U.S. periodical publishers decreased by nearly 50% from 42.78 in 2019 to 26.16 billion in 2005, according to Statistica. As more readers receive their information online, it’s become increasingly difficult for print publications to find and retain a dedicated readership. Many Condé Nast publications such as Teen Vogue have stopped publishing printed publications altogether to cut costs and pivoted into digital content exclusively. Condé Nast’s decision to integrate multiple brand publications under one vision often executed by U.S. based global content directors may make sense on paper as a business strategy, yet the shift towards a U.S. focus may be difficult to align with the cultural and political views distinctive to local versions of a magazine. Critics argue that this tactic will result in the homogenization of fashion coverage, instead of Anna Wintour’s statement that promised these revamped publications will “...tell the most important, inclusive, and inspiring stories of our time.” In an industry that has been criticized for historically excluding the stories of marginalized people in the past, who gets to decide what coverage is crucial and inclusive? Only time will tell how mainstream media adapts under new leadership. For now, there’s a glaring gap to be filled by independent fashion publications.

While global publishers of glossy magazines like Condé Nast and Hearst are decreasing their print publications, there has been a print renaissance taking place within independent fashion publishing. For niche journals such as Tank Magazine, Kinfolk, The Gentlewoman, and countless others their popularity has only increased as they target a specific demographic of readers who are willing to pay up to purchase a printed copy. These magazines don’t operate using the traditional revenue model employed by the relics of media, instead, they make money on the cover price (which is never sold at a loss). In addition, some publications have been able to monetize their point of view by curating products for tied-in online or brick and mortar stores ensuring their longevity and steadfast point of view as a result.

It has been said that the commercial print industry is losing steam and that the shakeup at Condé Nast has revealed flaws in an archaic business model that no longer serves many of its readers. Yet independent magazines can view and critique fashion through a literary lens that may not make sense for some advertisers. These small independent publications can “explore difficult topics like identity, community, climate, and the unjust treatment of the BIPOC community,” against the backdrop of fashion. (The Coveteur) Imbuing fashion media with thought-provoking and difficult conversations is important for ensuring that the industry continues to evolve with its increasingly hyper-aware customer. Similarly, many ex-editors for the most celebrated fashion publications, have found new roles as the heads of editorial for fashion and beauty brands such as Another Tomorrow and Violet Grey reinventing our idea of where the gatekeepers of fashion writing must work. Burgeoning designers must tread carefully; They should recognize the strengths and weaknesses inherent in all forms of fashion media.  being featured in a storied publication such as Vogue with global reach, versus a small independent publication with a fiercely loyal customer base.