If a magazine is bigger and thicker, will readers be more likely to buy it and keep it on their coffee tables? Condé Nast Traveler is betting on it. Starting with the September issue, the magazine is now one inch wider and printed on denser paper stock.
"The goal is that it's more of a keepsake, more dare I say book-like," says Editor-in-Chief Pilar Guzmán. "We know from our readers and from our audience that they save our issues and they go back to them because the information is pretty timeless... It's what people bring to the beach and pour over and curl up with. So it should have a tactility that thinner pages just don't have. They feel more disposable because they are."
Guzmán — who joined the struggling magazine in August 2013, a month after publisher Bill Wackermann was also brought on board — says she and Wackermann have been pushing to change the physical format from the very beginning. "We had to make a good corporate case and we've seen so much growth since we've both been here," she says. Ad pages in the September issue are up 20 percent to 111.33 and includes luxury fashion brands Hermès, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Tod's, Dolce & Gabbana and Salvatore Ferragamo.
"We are seizing on that redefinition of travel as not the subject of the sentence but rather the umbrella under which all these lifestyle channels live and I think that has been the big shift," says Guzmán. "We've been sort of massaging this thesis over the past couple of years and think we are really there and we're actually seeing that it's resonating both from a readership level and from the business community."
In recent years, travel magazines have had to compete with the growing popularity of travel review sites like TripAdvisor and even Instagram for recommendations and inspiration. Its biggest competitor in print, Time Inc.'s Travel + Leisure, has been undergoing its own transformation, playing with more conceptual stories in print and focusing on city guides online. Condé Nast Traveler is a smaller operation: In the first six months of the year, it averaged a print and digital edition audience of 3.5 million per month, a 4.5 percent increase over the same time period the year prior, according to The Association of Magazine Media. It has also combined its June and July issues, publishing 11 times per year. Travel + Leisure, meanwhile, averaged a print and digital edition audience of 6.5 million per month through June, a 6.2 percent increase over the same time period in 2014.
Guzmán is keenly aware of how social media has impacted travel writing and, as such, the brand focuses on telling stories through the viewpoints of influential personalities. "We want all of our picks to be personality driven," she says. "As editors, one of our jobs is really to curate the curators and have things feel not like, 'Here's the definitive guide to fill-in-the-blank city,' but the very personal take on this particular corner of the planet from a particular personality who you have some attachment to or they look chic enough that you want to have some attachment to them." Examples in the September issue include recommendations from Chloé Creative Director Clare Waight Keller and shoe designer and model Armando Cabral.
Guzman says producing more video content is also a big priority now, as is making sure that the digital and print staff are communicating and working together. The brand's site averaged 1.75 million monthly unique visitors in the first half of 2015, up 88 percent from last year, according to The Association of Magazine Media.
The Traveler audience is also skewing younger than it did before, according to Guzmán, and she is going after content that won't intimidate a boomer but still excite a millennial — all while avoiding clichéd travel magazine language. "What would you write to your best friend, what would you text back if she said, 'Where do I go in Orvieto?'" she says of the magazine's voice. "One of my goals is to make print ever more print-like and make digital ever more service-y and helpful and to be that sort of on-the-ground friend whispering in your ear."
That means Guzmán doesn't want Traveler to be just for the one percent, to the degree to which that's possible for a magazine about global travel. "Discovery is the luxury," she says, flipping through stories in the September issue and pointing out the cover story about a five-day road race in France that anyone can join — even without a classic roadster. "[The race is a] rarified world but for which there is a point of access, that's always the key for us," she says. "We don’t want anybody to feel like they have their nose pressed up against the glass and I think that's super important and even at this level, I think that's possible."
She calls herself more of an evangelist than an editor. "There's a level of credibility that comes with, 'I’m opening up my black book to you and you're my friend,' and I believe that's what a publication should do," says Guzmán. "Even before social media, this has always been my thesis. Magazines are designed to inspire and solve problems, especially with travel."