Fall fashion issues only down a few layers

Fashion, Flare and Elle Canada's September issues are almost the same size as last year - here's why Canada's beauty books are faring better than their US competitors.

Eager fashionistas will start dreaming about their fall wardrobes as the September issues of Canada’s top fashion magazines hit the newsstands next month. But as the ‘fashion bibles’ in the US are no longer the tripping hazards they were last year, in Canada the top three fashion mags, Flare, Fashion and Elle Canada haven’t lost much weight.

Fashion magazine closed at 196 pages this year, only slightly thinner than last year’s 206-page book, says Lilia Lozinski, senior VP, St. Joseph Media. ‘Physically and from a production sense, it’s 10 pages smaller, but the revenue is exactly the same as last year – that’s the good news. We all went out and celebrated,’ she tells MiC.

Elle Canada, which last year was 242 pages, is running at 216 pages this year, while Flare (which last year was 232 pages according to a Leading National Advertisers Canada summary report for 2008), will actually be bigger this year, says publisher Kerry Mitchell, VP Rogers Consumer Publishing, who would not divulge the closing number at press time. For Flare, September is also its 30th anniversary issue, expected to introduce new sections, design and a unique cover, hints Mitchell.

Elle Canada meanwhile, hasn’t been as affected by the recession, partly because it’s still growing, says publisher Jacqueline Howe, VP Transcontinental Media. ‘It’s going to be a touch smaller, but that’s not unusual,’ she says. ‘We are coming up to celebrating our 100th issue with the October issue so we’ve got some great promotions wrapped around that.’ On the topic of supply, demand and page rates, Howe says, ‘We’ve been using the web as a way to bring in some new customers. Certainly I think it’s hard to get rate increases through, and where we’re finding most of the negotiation is on the huge, corporate level. Whereas in the fashion and beauty category, people have been getting very strong value, and we’ve been protecting our ad rates.’

Besides the fact that the US titles had further to fall – Vogue, for instance, which last year was ran at a whopping 798 pages, saw ad pages fall by 36% this year – why is the news different in Canada? Michele Beaulieu, SVP group director at Starcom Worldwide, says one of the main ad categories in fashion books is the competitive cosmetics industry, which stimulates heavy investment in research and development and new product launches. And the limited number of laser-focused titles for this category means inventory is not in the bargain bin.

‘In Canada, while there are many magazines that carry fashion and beauty editorial, there are fewer that would be considered specifically fashion and beauty. With limited budgets in this economy, many advertisers are focusing efforts on tightly targeting the consumer in environments where she is most receptive to the advertising message,’ Beaulieu tells MiC. Because of the timing of product launches and because consumers are more likely to turn into spendthrifts in the fall, ad spend in the season is typically stronger, says Beaulieu.

Ruth Klostermann, VP strategic resources at ZenithOptimedia, adds that spending in the cosmetics and toiletries category is only down by about 7% (YTD, May 2009 versus May 2008). And while ad pages were down for the first half of the year, fall issues in particular tend to be stronger because ‘we all go out and buy the kids their school clothes and we’re also starting to think about our own wardrobes and whether we can stand wearing the same thing again this year.’

And while women may forgo some of the latest fashion trends, all are hoping to emerge out of the recession wrinkle-free. ‘The anti-aging product is no longer exclusive to the older woman, as there are now many products and messages addressing preventative measures to the younger woman,’ says Beaulieu. ‘Also related is an increase in ads from the cosmetic surgery category as many procedures gain more awareness and acceptance.’

According to the latest figures from Stats Canada, pharmacies and personal care stores experienced an increase in retail sales of 3.1% May 2009 over May 2008. Meanwhile, clothing retail sales decreased by 3.4%, as did shoe, accessories and jewellery sales, which dropped by 3.7%.

Beauty is still a strong advertiser, confirms Fashion‘s Lozinski, but she adds that the areas where the fashion books are down are scent strips, luxury and prestige brands, and retail. In order to appease those clients, both Fashion and Elle are holding more sponsored OOH events.

‘We’re taking our readers and we’re driving them in store,’ says Lozinski, referring to in-store events, shopping nights, or evenings with shopping discounts. ‘So we’re very sensitive to trying to help.’

Elle Canada has pulled similar tricks to help advertisers while also helping readers, like their shopping and beauty event held this spring. ‘I think it’s a really tangible feeling for them. So if they’re doing a shopping event and they see 200 people coming in and spending, it’s giving them immediate confidence,’ says Elle‘s Howe. ‘I think it gives us all a bit of comfort in many ways.’

And while many are breathing a sigh of relief for September, it remains to be seen what October will bring, as wait-and-see attitudes still have publishers pondering the fate of the issues for 2009. ‘Every client has been cautious again with the dollars that they do have to spend. I was delighted to see the headlines about Canadian confidence in our economy. But it’s been a year where everyone’s been playing their cards pretty close to their chests,’ says Mitchell, who was recently named publisher of Flare as well as several other Rogers publications.

Klostermann doesn’t think Canadian mags will see the same ad page declines that were evident in the first half of 2009. ‘It wasn’t really until the fall of 2008 where the wheels fell off,’ she says, ‘so now we’re going be comparing fall 2009 to a weak period a year ago as well. So I don’t think we’re going to see those kind of declines.’