The Publishing Industry Knows ‘Winter Is Coming.’ Here’s How It Can Move Forward

Digitally savvy editors are the next generation

Nancy Gibbs, Cindi Leive, Robbie Myers and Graydon Carter all recently left their positions at top magazines. Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Getty Images
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Graydon Carter, 25 years. Robbie Myers, 17 years. Cindi Leive, 16 years. Nancy Gibbs, 4 years as editor in chief and 28 more at the company.

All four major magazine editors, at Vanity Fair, Elle, Glamour and Time, respectively, have stepped down from their positions within the month of September.

“This is a coincidence that it’s all happening at once, not deliberate coordination between the companies,” said Peter Kreisky, a media industry strategist. “But it does send a signal about the future of the magazine industry.”

Replacements for Carter and Leive have yet to be announced. But digitally focused or easily recognizable names will likely fill Myers and Gibbs’s shoes. Nina Garcia, who until recently was the creative director for Marie Claire and best known as a judge on Project Runway, will be Elle’s new editor in chief. Edward Felsenthal, Time Inc’s digital director, is replacing Gibbs.

“If the folks leaving are the cream of the crop, then the industry has looked over the wall and seen that winter is coming,” Kreisky said, using the oft-quoted Game of Thrones testament of pending doom.

Fewer sales, but more mobile views

According to reports from both the AAM and the The Association Of Magazine Media, all four publications had flat subscription rates when compared to last year, meaning they fell or grew within 1 percent.

The biggest difference, though, can be seen in their newsstand sales.

Instagram: @elleusa

Elle’s newsstand sales dropped 20 percent, Vanity Fair’s dropped 22.7 percent and Glamour’s had the biggest fall at 35.6 percent.

Any growth is due to their web presence.

Elle’s total audience, including print and digital editions, web traffic, mobile traffic, and video viewers, grew by almost 20 percent in the last year thanks to huge jumps in video and mobile web views. Vanity Fair grew by nearly 30 percent thanks again to video and mobile.

Time only grew by 4 percent, according to the report, combining its biggest gains in video with a steady print audience. Glamour, too, grew its total audience by 5.5 percent largely due to its video production.

Changing attitudes and mindsets

As The New York Times noted in the announcement of Leive’s news, many of these core editors rose to prominence during an age before the notion of personal brands. Magazines were reporting the news and interest pieces, not making a name for themselves across many social media platforms. Neither were their editors.

“These editors are all fabulous and enormously talented,” said media staffing consultant Michele S. Magazine. “But the job has changed from the one-dimensional magazine brand they first worked on.”

According to Magazine, readers who are also fascinated with new technologies and new ways to get information are driving a lot of media consumption. “Some people don’t enjoy what the job has become,” she said, “and some people get jazzed by new tech. Publishers need someone who almost has tech in their DNA in order to leverage what’s out there today. They may feel it’s time to say ‘been there, done that.'”

“If you can’t fundamentally change these titles and bring them into the next era, they’re going to fail,” said Kreisky.

Looking ahead

Magazine said all publishers need to seek out talent who have “a passion for the subject, even if they don’t know it professionally.” Using Garcia as an example, Magazine noted her creative background and time on television is a non-traditional choice for an editor in chief, which brings more to the table.

While these decisions could smack of ageism, Magazine thinks it’s more of an issue of interest and comfort with emerging technologies.

“These new editors need to have a lot more experience other than print,” she said. “They should understand the process, but print doesn’t need to have been the center of their career so far.”

“If they have upper leadership and a CEO with real vision, not just a spreadsheet concerned about quarterly profits, these publications will understand where they’re going and how to hire the right people,” she said. “They need to find people who think and see differently than previous editors.”

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.