Fashion Magazines Stay Mum on September Ad Page Numbers

So we bought newsstand copies and counted their ad pages by hand.
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Chantal Fernandez
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So we bought newsstand copies and counted their ad pages by hand.
Behold the spines of the fashion magazines whose ad pages we counted three times. Photo: Fashionista

Behold the spines of the fashion magazines whose ad pages we counted three times. Photo: Fashionista

When it comes to the September issues, size matters.

Or at least it used to, the Association of Magazine Media (MPA) is arguing. This year, fashion titles at Condé Nast, Hearst and Time Inc. have collectively refused to release the number of print ads sold in their September issues, typically their biggest, most important issues of the year. Though September ad page counts have long been used as a yardstick for magazine brands' performance relative to the year before as well as to each other, the MPA says that the number of print ads in a September issue is today a poor measure of a brand's health given that advertising revenue now comes through many different channels, including online and native advertising.

As an alternative, the MPA began publishing a monthly brand audience report called "Magazine Media 360" last September. The report tallies print and digital edition readers, online unique visitors via desktop and mobile, and unique video views. The MPA believes audience numbers are the only way to evaluate the health of a media brand "in the absence of any credible, accurate and third-party data that tracks advertising performance across all platforms and formats for magazine media (and all other media for that matter)," the organization said in a statement. Mary Berner, president and CEO of MPA since 2012, says ad pages are "no longer a proxy for a health of a brand." She said she's seen internal numbers where print pages were down but advertising revenue had increased.

That said, we think ad pages are still worth counting. Without access to actual revenue numbers, it's the only metric that sheds light on advertiser demand for traditional print ads in each magazine. WSJ magazine and T: The New York Times Style Magazine still think they're important, too; both sent press releases announcing the number of ad pages sold in their September issues — which, they were proud to say, were exceptionally strong this year.

Because we were denied access to official numbers, we bought copies of 10 leading U.S. fashion magazines and counted, by hand, every ad that appeared. Since our issues were purchased at newsstands, our numbers (which you can peruse in full below) do not account for ads that run only in subscription issues, ads that run only in certain regions of the country, other advertising sponsorships or native advertising programs. Thus, there were some discrepancies. For example, by our count, Glamour's pages were flat, but a source with knowledge of the title's ad numbers says they actually increased by 7 percent year-over-year. We counted declines in both Elle and Harper's Bazaar, but a Hearst spokesperson says they were in fact their biggest issues ever.

Overall, the numbers this year weren't great. Only the aforementioned titles — WSJ, T, Glamour and Elle — saw ad page increases this year. Vogue saw a slight decline in ad pages to 615.02, but still garnered the most overall. InStyle was the worst hit, with a 30 percent decrease year-over-year, which was confirmed by a source. Cosmopolitan, meanwhile, saw a 34 percent decrease, but a representative explained that that's largely because 2014's reported count included Cosmopolitan for Latinas's ad pages as well.

Now that we're all aware of the limitations of this exercise, let's take a look at the ad page numbers. In five cases, numbers were corrected by internal sources; we have included those corrected numbers below. For more information on how pages were counted, see our note.**

Beyoncé on 'Vogue.' Photo: Mario Testino/Vogue

Beyoncé on 'Vogue.' Photo: Mario Testino/Vogue

VOGUE
September 2014: 631 (reported)
September 2015: 615.02 (Fashionista count)

Keira Knightley on 'Elle.' Photo: Paola Kudacki/Elle

Keira Knightley on 'Elle.' Photo: Paola Kudacki/Elle

ELLE
September 2014: 465 (reported)
September 2015: 439.33* (Fashionista count)
*It's the title's biggest issue ever, according to Hearst. 

Katy Perry on 'Harper's Bazaar.' Photo: Jean Paul Goude/Harper's Bazaar

Katy Perry on 'Harper's Bazaar.' Photo: Jean Paul Goude/Harper's Bazaar

HARPER'S BAZAAR
September 2014: 444 (reported)
September 2015: 435.33*(Fashionista count)
*It's the title's biggest issue ever, according to Hearst. 

Anne Hathaway on 'InStyle.' Photo: Michelangelo Di Battista/InStyle

Anne Hathaway on 'InStyle.' Photo: Michelangelo Di Battista/InStyle

INSTYLE
September 2014: 448 (reported)
September 2015: 314.5 (Fashionista count)

Gigi Hadid on 'W.' Photo: Steven Meisel/W

Gigi Hadid on 'W.' Photo: Steven Meisel/W


September 2014: 303 (reported)
September 2015: 294 (Fashionista count)

Miley Cyrus on 'Marie Claire.' Photo: Mark Seliger/Marie Claire

Miley Cyrus on 'Marie Claire.' Photo: Mark Seliger/Marie Claire

MARIE CLAIRE
September 2014: 261 (reported)
September 2015: 228.33 (Fashionista count)

Karlie Kloss on 'Glamour.' Photo: Tom Munro/Glamour

Karlie Kloss on 'Glamour.' Photo: Tom Munro/Glamour

GLAMOUR
September 2014: 215 (reported)
September 2015: 230 (confirmed by source)

Taylor Swift on 'Vanity Fair.' Photo: Mario Testino/Vanity Fair.

Taylor Swift on 'Vanity Fair.' Photo: Mario Testino/Vanity Fair.

VANITY FAIR
September 2014: 232 (reported)
September 2015: 212 (Fashionista count)

Cate Blanchett on 'T.' Photo: Karim Sadli/T 

Cate Blanchett on 'T.' Photo: Karim Sadli/T 

T MAGAZINE
September 2014: 158 (reported)
September 2015: 164 (reported)

Demi Lovato on 'Cosmopolitan.' Photo: Tesh/Cosmopolitan

Demi Lovato on 'Cosmopolitan.' Photo: Tesh/Cosmopolitan

COSMOPOLITAN
September 2014: 185 (reported)
September 2015: 122.2 (Fashionista count)

Ansel Elgort on 'Teen Vogue.' Photo: Boo George/Teen Vogue

Ansel Elgort on 'Teen Vogue.' Photo: Boo George/Teen Vogue

TEEN VOGUE
September 2014: 112 (reported)
September 2015: 112 (Fashionista count)

Freja Beha Erichsen on 'WSJ. Magazine.' Photo: Lachlan Bailey/WSJ

Freja Beha Erichsen on 'WSJ. Magazine.' Photo: Lachlan Bailey/WSJ

WSJ. MAGAZINE
September 2014: 90.08 (reported)
September 2015: 100.4 (reported)

** We counted each separate ad page as a single ad, meaning spreads counted as two ads. We counted each side of fold-out ads as its own page. We counted ads in inserts as individual pages as well, even if the insert page size was smaller than that of the magazine. We gave no extra value to ads on thicker or glossy paper. We counted sponsored content only when it was explicitly presented as such with the words "advertisement," "promotion," or "presented by X."

Note: This story was updated with a comment from Hearst concerning Cosmopolitan's ad pages.