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Analysis & Opinion
24.02.09 Glamour In Crisis
By Svetlana Kolchik

As Russia’s economy continues struggling, advertising expenses top most companies’ cost-cutting lists. But the advertisers’ tightening their belts seems to be compromising an entire industry that lives off luxurious product commercials – the myriad of local glossy magazine editions. While those publishers of glamour magazines who earn incomes by selling subscriptions appear set to wither the storm, the ones who rely on ads may have to shut their doors, since the readers now have little interest in nurturing vanity.

“Fashion for six months to come. One hundred seventy five dresses, shoes and rings you won’t be able to live without in the new season,” reads the top banner on the cover of the February 2009 Russian edition of Tatler magazine. The 190 pages of this premium-class glossy magazine, published by Conde Nast Russia, are dedicated mostly to the ups and downs of the exciting lives of the rich and glamorous, both in Russia and abroad, as well as to telling the readers what products (mostly luxurious ones) to buy and which hot and trendy destinations to visit.

The first issue of Russian Tatler came out in August of 2008, almost ten years after the Vogue magazine launch in Russia, and 14 years after the launch of the very first glossy publication to appear in the country after the fall of the Soviet Union—the celebrated women’s monthly Cosmopolitan, published by Independent Media Sanoma Magazines.

Ten years ago, the long-planned, star-studded Russian Vogue launch party had been cancelled due to the severe financial crisis of 1998. Still, the business got a great start. Following Vogue and Cosmopolitan, other world-famous magazine titles appeared in Russia, largely thanks to mounting Western investments. Each year, the magazines grew thicker, advertising swelled, titles multiplied and publishing houses expanded. According to RosBusinessConsulting (RBC) studies, in the last decade, glossy magazines have become one of the most thriving market segments in the publishing business, with a reported 13 percent growth per year. Experts estimate that about 1,000 glossy magazine titles are published in Russia today, accounting for more than half of all the magazines on the country’s media market. Most newsstands in Moscow and other big Russian cities indeed sport a remarkably colorful palette of titles, ranging from up-market women’s and men’s magazines to celebrity weeklies to magazines for parents, sports fans, cooking and gastronomy aficionados, etc. This impressive variety doesn’t suggest that the industry might be affected by the economic crisis at all.

Which is not exactly true, industry watchers say. Just like most other businesses, the economic downfall in Russia hasn’t left the world of glamour magazines unscathed. More so, as the crisis accelerates, incomes and consumer spending plummet, and many predict the nearing decline of the era of glossy titles and the lifestyle they promote—based on material aspiration and a non-stop hunt of “all-that-glitters.”

Even so, until very recently, this has been hard to believe. In the fall of 2008, when the talk of the falling economy in Russia had been limited to news from overseas, most leading up-market magazine titles, such as Vogue, Elle, GQ, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and others came out in sensationally heavy-weight tomes, boasting, thanks to the incredibly generous advertising budgets, more than 500 pages each. According to the Association of Communication Agencies of Russia, the total advertising volume had grown by at least 14 percent during the first nine months of 2008, compared to the same period in 2007. But as the credit crunch finally started to bite in Russia, advertising sales slowed down, and gossip began spreading about the imminent demise of glossy publications.

“The crisis is absolutely one of the hottest topics right now,” said Tatiana Nikonova, the founder and director of, a popular Internet portal dedicated to the latest news and gossip about the world of glamour magazines. A longtime insider in the business and a former magazine editor, Nikonova rigorously monitors and chronicles the growing turmoil in the industry: the journalists’ layoffs and unpaid leaves, salaries and expenses cuts, advertising volume drops, etc. She said her sources usually call her themselves (in most cases, anonymously) “to complain.”

One of the recent posts on reported that Independent Media Sanoma Magazines, by far the largest and one of the most successful publishing houses in Russia, with as many as 23 titles in the bank, including Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Yes! And the “Vedomosti” daily, soon plans to close at least nine of its publications. And although this information is not yet official (Independent Media has confirmed the closure of just one magazine – the weekly Gloria), glossy magazines published by other companies have already begun shutting down. Conde Nast was again one of the first. In October of 2008, it had announced that that the launch of its new magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, with its pilot issue almost ready, has been delayed for an uncertain period of time.

“You’ve got such magazines as Car, Empire, Gala, and Total Film, among others, that have ceased to exist because of the crisis,” said Nikonova. “And it’s just the beginning, you’ll see,” she added. Many in the business agree that much more is to come. “Sinking advertising sales will bankrupt many glossy publications. Besides, the issues these magazines cover will soon cease to seduce the consumers,” said Boris Kagarlitsky, the director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, in a recently issued and highly publicized report on the future of glamour magazines.

And while other industry watchers may not share this bleak outlook, most say that the new economic realities will inevitably affect the glossy magazines market, even though it had managed to become an essential part of the urban Russian lifestyle. “The truth is, most glossies aim solely to satisfy the advertisers,” said Marina Fyodorovskaya, a former editor at Conde Nast’s Tatler magazine who has recently been laid off. “Perhaps the time has come for them to change and become more reader-friendly.”

Feyodorovskaya, who has worked at various glossy magazines for more than a decade, suggested that the thinning wallets of both magazine makers and readers may in the end lead to more socially-responsible issues. “There’s a need for more stories of substance, the ones about politics, charity projects of sorts, just stuff that raises social awareness in general,” she said. “There has traditionally been a lot of this type of coverage in the Western glossies, but so far not so much in Russia.”

She added that in a way, glossy magazines reflect the needs of Russian society, overwhelmed by consumerism and celebrity frenzy during the last few years. Never mind the fact that the reality these magazines portray deals with Moscow and just a handful of big Russian cities.

“It has nothing to do with how the rest of the country lives,” Fyodorovskaya said. But what most experts do agree on is that the economic crisis might introduce healthier and fairer competition to the magazine publishing business. “There have been so many new magazines lately, many without a clear design concept and message,” said Olga Pavlova, the deputy editor at Forbes Style, a quarterly supplement to the Forbes Russia magazine published by the Axel-Springer House. “I’m not even sure anyone actually reads them. Lately, almost anyone who had spare cash decided that they wanted to start a magazine,” she said. “A healthy drainage wouldn’t hurt this industry.”

As many journalists are losing their jobs these days as well, Pavlova stressed that if only the most able stay aboard, magazines would eventually get more professional, at least in terms of the articles’ quality. “If you can survive during these tough times, it means that you are worthy,” she said.

Indeed, the latest data indicates that the era of “fast-and-easy cash” is over in most industries, including the world of magazine publishing. Experts report a sobering 30 percent drop in advertising volumes at the majority of the Russian glossies during the first two months of 2009. “The entire industry is in turmoil,” said Olga Karatchevtseva, an advertising sales manager at the Hachette Filipacchi Shkulev, one of Russia’s top publishing houses which prints such titles as Elle, Maxim, Marie Claire and a dozen others. “Some top distributors of cosmetics brands are going bankrupt because they aren’t able to pay those huge debts they’d acquired in the past few years. The brands themselves are short of cash, and therefore almost everyone is cutting their advertising budgets,” Karatchevtseva added. Which, in turn, makes the future of the glossies, most of which depend entirely on advertising sales, uncertain to say the least. “The situation is very unstable, even chaotic,” Karatchevtseva said. “The magazines are fighting for the advertisers the best they can. Some rush to lower their rates per page, others are simply dumping. It’s really hard to plan anything these days – even for the next few months, not to mention the second half of 2009,” she said. “No one knows what happens next. For many of us it’s like, ‘Hello, welcome back to reality!’”

Experts observe that magazines whose budgets are not 100 percent based on advertising revenues and which are able to profit from retail and subscriptions seem to be in a better shape.

“We are doing great – so far so good,” said Igor Lysnik, the editor in chief of Yes! Stars, a monthly magazine about celebrities for a 16+ year-old audience with a circulation of 450,000, published by Independent Media Sanoma Magazines. Lysnik also said that 70 percent of the magazine’s revenues come from retail, and only 30 from advertising. The latter, curiously, has recently been going up. “Believe it or not, but we’ve got a larger advertising volume in our March 2009 issue than we did, say, in October 2008, when no one talked about crisis in Russia yet,” Lysnik said. He added that while the fight for consumers is intensifying as well, his magazine actually has a “unique offer” for the advertisers. “The brands are now looking for easier ways to get the consumer to spend,” Lysnik said. “Younger people are a very attractive target group for them.”

Lysnik and others in the industry insist that with sinking advertising revenues and rising printing costs, quite a few magazine titles may eventually be forced to leave the market. Some see this as a clearly positive trend, as quality might after all outdo quantity “Only the leading magazines will manage to stay,” said Nikonova. “The ones without a clear brand presence are likely to suffer.” Olga Karatchevtseva from Hachette Filipacchi Shkulev agrees. “The advertisers are now becoming very careful on where their money goes. If they do decide to spend, they’ll make sure it goes to quality publications.”

Yet experts stress that there’s one strong aspect to the glossies that might keep them alive regardless of whatever lows the economy may reach: they provide a desirable escape from the grim reality of daily life, and during difficult times such distractions may actually be in increased demand. “It’s like buying a new lipstick – women will do it anyway, no matter how hard times are, because it makes them feel better,” Nikonova said.

Market research indeed shows that most glossies in Russia are read not only by the tycoons’ wives, but by regular middle- and ever lower-class women, single mothers, and students. “When cash is limited, a student may pass on a cup of coffee, but still manage to buy the latest issue of her favorite Cosmo,” Karatchevtseva said. “Besides, these magazines are often read by entire households and shared by several girlfriends. These magazines are a great distraction for them,” she added.

In fact, the most recent issues of the top Russian glossies show no signs of addressing the new economic reality, and continue to dwell on these escapist pursuits. The banners on the cover of the March 2009 issue of Russian Elle read as follows: “The existing ways to stay young,” “How to properly choose a sexy perfume,” “What the stars are ashamed of,” “Blondes against Brunettes,” “Run, Lola, Run! Downshifting as a growing trend.” “I’m often asked these days about what’s going to happen to the Russian Tatler,” said Karina Dobrotvorskaya, the president of Conde Nast Russia. “This magazine is supposed to be all about the party. What’s there to cover when, in a way, the party is over?”

Dobrotvorskaya said that even in the premium glamour magazines, the articles’ angle may soon need to change, shifting toward more meaningful social issues and “less crazy fun, more analysis.” Asked about the need for a new direction, she mentioned GQ magazine, which promotes success stories based on high-end consumerism, money and careers. “Now they’ve got to look for some new values,” she said.

Even so, the March 2009 issue of Russian Tatler magazine still covered the lavish parties and provided celebrity advice on how to stay beautiful – on condition of an unlimited budget. Interestingly, it also featured an article on the changing real estate situation worldwide. Needless to say, the real estate covered there boasted the zip codes of London’s Mayfair and Knightsbridge, downtown Moscow’s Ostozhenka and the luxury suburbs of Barvikha and Rublevka. “The crisis is a great test for our men who should be able not only to elegantly earn their millions, but gracefully lose them as well,” wrote Viktoria Davydova, Russian Tatler’s editor in chief, in her editor’s letter for the magazine’s March issue.

But, even more fascinatingly, the crisis is likely to be a survival test for the glamour magazines themselves – especially in the era when the number of Internet users is rapidly increasing even in the Russian regions, not to mention the large cities. “Depending solely on advertising is simply unrealistic – both financially and conceptually,” said Tatiana Nikonova on “I’ll be curious to see how the glossies try to find new ways to attract and keep readers.” But she was quick to add that the “glossy mentality,” the term recently coined by experts to describe the emerging consumerism and the allure of all things beautiful, is already an innate part of the Russian society. “Glossy magazines sell a dream,” Nikonova said. “And people will never stop dreaming.”
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