The magazine industry emerged this year from the most perilous downturn in its history with a set of unmistakable powerhouse titles celebrated here in Adweek’s 31st annual Hot List. Those that made the cut, from Food Network Magazine at No. 1 to Vanity Fair at No. 10, were the industry’s most successful and influential over the past year.
The rankings are based on financial performance metrics—ad page, ad revenue, newsstand, and overall circulation, growth—along with an influence measurement derived from social media footprint, press impressions, and search engine results. Also factored in is a product quality measurement, based on the number of edit pages, Web traffic, awards, and other reader satisfaction benchmarks.
Hearst may have long been in Condé Nast’s shadow, but who needs Condé’s prestige when you have Food Network Magazine ? This is one case when Hearst’s lower-brow attitude—combined with its strategy of partnering with established personalities and platforms—has turned into a winning recipe. While Condé was shuttering Gourmet , Food Network Magazine was drawing in readers with celebrity talent, over-the-top recipes, and a general refusal to take itself too seriously. In just two years, has circulation soared to 1.3 million.
The inner workings of the fashion industry remain a source of intrigue, and few have exploited that more aggressively than Hearst’s Marie Claire , which has thrown open its doors to TV cameras recently in the name of brand awareness. It’s worked. Ties with Project Runway and Running in Heels—and the star power of Adweek’s Editor of the Year, Joanna Coles, and fashion director Nina Garcia—have helped raise the magazine’s profile. In 2010, Marie Claire grew ad pages by 20 percent, the fastest pace of any of the established fashion mags.
Somewhere between the shelter magazines, filled with impeccable show houses, and more down-to-earth how-to titles, Hachette Filipacchi Media’s Elle Decor , recently acquired by Hearst, found a niche among homeowners looking for chic and aspirational home design ideas. Elle Decor also had the savvy to expose itself to new audiences via partnerships with Bravo and Kohl’s. As the economic collapse wiped out many of its peers, Elle Decor became the fastest-growing shelter book last year. Ad pages rose 35 percent, and second-half newsstand sales were up 26 percent.
Icon of the dot-com boom, Wired escaped the fate of the other tech magazines of the go-go ‘90s by embracing a broader editorial mission. Under the patronage of Condé Nast, which bought it in 1998, and editor Chris Anderson , Wired has become an agenda setter and a digital beacon for the company. Though it took a beating during the recession, Wired’s ad pages soared last year—up 24 percent—earning the wonky title new respect in a publishing house of fashion glossies.
When the lad-mag craze petered out, upscale men’s titles like Condé Nast’s Men’s Vogue and Rodale’s Best Life went under. But GQ  held on and has reasserted itself as the preeminent men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine by taking itself seriously—but not too seriously. Under editor Jim Nelson, the Condé monthly has gotten attention for its long-form journalism and stellar reportage, but also pulled in a younger audience with a combination of service and pop culture. In the second half of 2010, single-copy sales rose 6 percent on an overall circulation increase of 5 percent. Who says men don’t read magazines anymore?
With People StyleWatch , Time Inc. took the DNA of its powerful People franchise and developed a brazen fashion brand that’s become a real threat to stalwarts like Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. More shopping catalogue than style primer, StyleWatch capitalized on the public’s love affair with both celebrities and fast fashion. Last year alone, StyleWatch’s ad pages jumped 50 percent while second-half circulation was up by 9 percent, making it one of the fastest growers in the industry.
In the ‘70s, Cosmopolitan  rode the wave of single girls and became the lipstick and sex tips glossy we know today. It’s gained global recognition for keeping up with rapidly changing social mores ever since. This past year, living up to its “fun, fearless female” mantra—and trying to build brand loyalty in emerging markets—Cosmo launched editions in unlikely places, such as Mongolia and the Middle East. At home in the U.S., it remains the biggest newsstand magazine, and subscription sales grew 13 percent in the second half of 2010.
Jann Wenner’s original counterculture mission may be as dated as an LP, but Rolling Stone  has lately found new relevance. A surge of hard-hitting investigative pieces, including one that led to the resignation of the general commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan , earned Rolling Stone massive attention and drove single-copy sales up 19 percent in the second half of 2010. Rock concert tie-ins have also helped attract advertising across the major categories.
Businessweek  was part of a dull, struggling category until the deep-pocketed Bloomberg LP bought it in late 2009 and breathed new life into it. Bloomberg installed as its editor Josh Tyrangiel , a digital wunderkind from Time Inc. and onetime music critic, who saw the need for a product that combined the speed of the Web and the illustrative ability of print. The resulting redesign has been called smart and original and drawn comparisons with New York magazine. Things seem to be moving in the right direction. Individually paid subscriptions rose 7 percent in the latter half of last year, while ad pages jumped 49 percent in the first quarter of this year, bringing profitability in sight.
Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair  is filled with products we can’t afford and articles we think we don’t have time to read—and yet we keep buying it just the same, even during the worst economic downturn in memory. Total circulation has risen 7 percent since 2007 to 1.2 million, leading the magazine to raise its rate base three years in a row. What’s more, ad pages are clawing their way back from the lows of the recession (up 11 percent last year) and dominating the luxury ad market. From a Tiger Woods exposé  to a superb dissection of the financial crisis (netting two Loeb Awards last year), the reporting continues to deliver on the high and low. —Lucia Moses
SOURCES: PUBLISHERS INFORMATION BUREAU, AUDIT BUREAU OF CIRCULATIONS, GFK MRI, CRITICAL MENTION, PATRICK MCMULLAN, PUBLISHING COMPANIES