Question: Do the September issues really matter anymore?

Vogue September issue 2015

Newsagents across the world are already pushing the interiors mags along the shelves to make space. Supermarkets have shifted the gardening and autos titles to a different aisle. The colossal September glossy fashion issues are here and everyone needs to make a bit more space. Or do they?

Time was, if you didn’t work for a fashion magazine, the concept of ‘The September Issue’ didn’t exist. And then RJ Cutler came along and committed The September Issue to celluloid history and suddenly everyone had an opinion on the topic.

Published late August and weighed down with new-season adverts for the autumn/winter collections just coming into store, for the Vogues, Elles and Ws of the world, September issues mean big business. And in an industry where print circulations are dropping off a cliff, any opportunity to sell more ads is a really big deal. Like, really big.

Elle September issue 2015

Normal people, and when I say normal people, I mean anyone who doesn’t work in fashion, don’t get all that excited about adverts in magazines no matter what the publishers would have you think. When you ask readers of most fashion magazines what they dislike about the mag, the No1 answer is always the number of adverts. Trust me, I’ve sat through my fair share of focus groups and it always crops up.

They’re the life blood of the printed press though, and that means any opportunity to ad more into a magazine has to be grabbed and exploited. A new season with a rash of glossy new imagery is a prime example.

As a consequence, the press releases are already swirling through cyber space crowing about how many pages of advertising the American glossies have managed to secure this season.

The Wall Street Journal’s magazine, WSJ, and T: The New York Times Style Magazine both announced back in July that their September issues would break ad records.

As a sign of the times, digital revenues for the same month are also being noted, with US Elle’s publisher, Kevin O’Malley, telling WWD that Elle.com’s September revenues will be up 25% and the site’s highest ever. In the same month, the magazine will be their biggest to date (last year it had 465 ad pages).

Love September issue 2015

Is anyone listening? Does anyone care, bar the journalists whose jobs are presumably that little bit safer knowing cash is still coming in? The Irish Times, one of the few newspapers I could find who were bothering to cover the topic, came up with the excellent headline “September issues bulge, but desperation is the big trend”. The main focus of the story was the dwindling fortunes of a large swath of the British magazine press, calling out one magazine in particular that I used to work for.

What’s becoming more interesting, over and above the amount of cash magazines are making from these issues, are the “firsts” they’re notching at the same time. And I’m not talking about C-3PO’s debut on the cover of Love magazine.

Marketing a commercial first, American Vogue went on sale at Target and online at Amazon on 14 August, while newsagents can’t start selling it until 18 August. Move inside the magazine and the spread of colourful Target ads, all modeled on iconic Vogue images, are shoppable via new visual-recognition technology from Shazam. That’s the kind of September issue news everyone in the industry can get excited about, while readers at home coo over the Mario Testino-shot Beyonce cover.

Where Target and Vogue lead, no doubt others will follow, but they better move fast. With digital platforms like Broadly from Vice securing multi-year commercial deals before they’ve even launched – in Broadly’s case from Unilever – the peaks and troughs of the fashion calendar are fast becoming irrelevant to the very brands that fund them.

On a related topic, if you haven’t yet watched Yolanda Dominguez’ video Niños vs Moda, I urge you to do so now. The premise is simple: show a group of young school-kids a series of glossy fashion ads and see what they think. It’s cute to begin with, and then pretty terrifying. Men in fashion mags are described by the children as “bosses” and “heroes”. The women? “Ill”, “on drugs” and “tortured”.

Maybe it’s not the issue adverts appear in that we should be debating, but the very context of the ads to start with.

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