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The Delicate Balance

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Mixed Reviews
No doubt the TV exposure has been a good thing for these titles, which have suffered -- along with the rest of the publishing industry -- from declining readership and sagging ad-page revenues. But the new publicity comes at a price. Editors have to commit time that otherwise would have gone to creating content. Many have to surrender their privacy to the prying camera. And after all of that, the benefits can still be uncertain.

Project Runway was a ratings smash and, Elle believes, helped raise the magazine's profile. But similar efforts weren't nearly as popular -- specifically, Stylista, The CW's fall 2008 series that took viewers behind the scenes at Elle, and Running in Heels, which debuted this year on Comcast's Style Network.

Marie Claire's Coles concedes that having a film crew in her offices shooting Running in Heels, which followed employees at the magazine, was tiring. "It's exhausting to have that level of attention on you all the time," she says. But the fatigue paid off in terms of above-average newsstand results for March (353,000 copies were sold, well above the 254,863 average for the first half of the year). And so now, Coles is philosophical about it. "All editors are spending a lot of time thinking about television because it's one way of making the magazine stay relevant," she says. "When everybody's clamoring for newsstand attention, anything that brings the brand to people's attention is helpful."

Even the famously aloof Anna Wintour has been making herself more accessible for interviews. On August 25, Wintour showed up on The Late Show With David Letterman to help promote R.J. Cutler's The September Issue, a new documentary on the making of Vogue's September 2007 edition. On September 10, Wintour herself is expected to be out rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi at a Macy's pop-up store in (of all places) Queens. The occasion is part of Fashion's Night Out, an economic-stimulus event to be held in New York and other cities in an effort to encourage shopping.

Now that the Web has given everyone the tools to be a fashion journalist, magazine editors are no longer the gatekeepers of all things style-related -- especially since the runway shows they used to enjoy near-exclusive admission to can now be seen by anyone with a computer and Web access. And so, here again, fashion editors have had to adapt.

"The reader knows more than ever about fashion," says Sally Singer, fashion news/features director at Vogue. "In the 10 years I've been at Vogue, [Vogue's Web site] Style.com got started, and it's completely changed how I would cover collections. It used to be my role [just] to tell people what happened."

The Web has sped up the news cycle and, with it, the pace of coverage, says Kate Betts, editor of Time Style & Design, a special issue of the newsweekly published six times a year. "If I'm going to a fashion show, I think about how I'm going to cover it on many levels. Now, you have to think what could be a video interview, what could be a Time interview. It is kind of exhausting, and every season, it's amped up even more. It's almost too much information. Maybe fashion magazines should only come out twice a year."

That's not happening-at least not yet. But editors are responding to the Web's more casual tone. They've also had to address the proliferation of beauty do-it-yourselfers, whose advice on hair and makeup has begun to compete with the beauty-tips departments of many magazines. For its part, Elle has responded with Elle Video Star, a feature on Elle.com that was launched amid the glut of amateur online makeup artists. Sponsored by Cover Girl, Elle Video Star encourages visitors to submit their own how-to beauty videos, and its presence has helped Elle.com build to nearly 2 million unique visitors as of July. "There are a lot of people on the Web who are giving makeup advice, so we created [Video Star]," says Myers, who points out that Elle maintains some control over the content by picking the best video. "To pretend that the Web isn't about readers and users talking to each other-that's what it is, so we need to be a part of that."

The site of Time Inc.'s In Style is smaller, but growing. Its traffic grew 40 percent to 930,000 monthly unique visitors over the past year, per comScore. The site has added features like Shopstyle, a shopping widget where shopaholics can virtually browse retailers' merchandise, get sales alerts and share items with friends; and a makeover tool that lets people "try on" their favorite celebrities' looks.

Others have some catching up to do. Style.com lags its peers in traffic, at below 500,000 uniques. Its July traffic -- 344,000 unique visitors -- was actually down 9 percent from a year ago, per comScore. Condé Nast's digital arm has yet to launch a standalone Web site for Vogue, which some believe has been a missed opportunity for a brand of its stature. And Harper's Bazaar was below 100,000 uniques-down 25 percent versus a year ago.

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