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Well Damn, 2018 Was Not a Good Year for Media

Layoffs, print closures and seismic publishing shifts continued to affect the industry this year.
Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

It’s been a long 12 months, and before we kick 2018 to the curb, we're looking back at all of the most memorable, game-changing fashion and beauty things that went down. Follow along with us as we look back at the year in review.

We're sure we don't have to tell you this explicitly, but 2018 has been another challenging year for the media industry. Let's get down to brass tacks with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the many changes that happened in the media world — just this year.

Firstly, there was a nearly constant stream of shakeups at top of major mastheads. At Condé Nast alone: Elaine Welteroth left Teen Vogue in early January to write a book and serve as a judge on the upcoming "Project Runway" reboot; Phillip Picardi was named chief content officer at Teen Vogue before leaving Condé Nast altogether for Out, at which point Lindsay Peoples Wagner was brought in from The Cut to serve as editor-in-chief; longtime Vogue staffers, including Tonne Goodman, Phyllis Posnick, Jill Demling and Eve MacSweeney all either took freelance roles at the magazine or left it altogether as rumors swirled that Anna Wintour herself would soon be stepping down (Condé CEO Bob Sauerberg rebutted that Wintour would stay on "indefinitely," only to issue his own resignation in November); Jim Nelson stepped down from GQ after serving as editor-in-chief for 15 years, naming Will Welch of GQ Style as his replacement; Fred Santarpia resigned from his role of chief digital officer at Condé Nast; Dirk Standen left his role as editor-in-chief of Condé Nast's branded content arm 23 Stories. Got all that?

The trend of editors leaving for the branded side continued apace in 2018, too: Marie Suter, longtime veteran of Condé Nast, left her role as creative director for Teen Vogue, Allure, Them and W to join Glossier; Selby Drummond left Vogue for Snapchat; W Executive Digital Director Sarah Leon has parted ways with the publication to join Pat McGrath's team. Beyond Condé Nast, Joanna Coles resigned from her role as chief content officer of Hearst, reportedly following the naming of Troy Young as president to replace David Carey. Layoffs occurred (sometimes multiple times throughout the year) at publications like Glamour, Vanity Fair, GQ, Refinery29, Vogue, InStyle, Mic, Teen Vogue and more. 

The Meredith takeover of Time, Inc. officially completed in February of this year, where some of its titles — like Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated — either were or continue to be up for sale. Condé Nast moved to sell three publications, including W, Brides and Golf Digest; Goop separated itself from the publisher over fact-checking issues. Bustle acquired and restaffed The Zoe Report and, more controversially, Mic. And then, there's the publications that ceased print operations altogether (with the exception of so-called "special issues"), including Glamour and Seventeen; publications like Racked and Rookie shut down operations completely.

All this to say: Things are not great in media! While just a few years ago publishers were heralding the now-infamous "pivot to video," bolstered by falsified promises and numbers from Facebook, many of the year's biggest crashes and layoffs came because executives over-invested in video resources which, ultimately, didn't pan out. In the face of dwindling advertising numbers — due in part to prioritization of influencer marketing, particularly in the fashion and beauty spaces — big publishers were forced to do more (content) with less (employees and financial resources). Chasing increasingly unrealistic traffic goals also lead to a flattening of media, with many outlets reporting on the same buzzy, clickbait-y story. Or, as Amy Odell wrote for Business of Fashion

Legacy magazine publishers are simply not innovating at the pace that shifting media habits demand. If they were, I'd guess that fewer women's magazine websites would aggregate TMZ items all day, in an attempt to gin up page views in a social media-driven ecosystem where traffic is increasingly hard to come by, but no less necessary if you are in the business of selling advertisers on audience size.

So, what does the future look like? Merging seems to be the name of the game. A trend started by Hearst in late 2016, editorial teams were tasked with overseeing content for several publications rather than working for just one title. Over the summer of 2018, Condé Nast announced that Condé Nast Traveller (U.K.) and Condé Nast Traveler (U.S.) would become one publication, with no word on which spelling of "traveler" would win out on covers. Even more stunningly (though perhaps not totally unexpected), Condé Nast and Condé Nast International announced their merger in November.

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"What has become clear is that our aspirations are no longer best served by our historical structure of running two separate companies," the announcement read. "We have concluded that the time is right for us to combine our U.S. and international companies to realize the full potential of Condé Nast for our audiences and our business partners."

Digital covers, too, seem to be swiftly gaining in popularity, especially as brands cease print operations. Allure, Nylon, VogueTeen Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Complex all experimented with the medium over the course of 2018, allowing brands to play with formatting, cast less traditional cover stars and tackle more timely subject matter.

"Digital covers are often an opportunity for publications to be adventurous and take more risks than they would with a newsstand cover," The Fashion Spot Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Davidson told Fashionista early this year. "There's no need to bog down a digital cover with a lot of text, which allows for more creativity when selecting images. They can also use digital-only gimmicks, like moving images, to add interest to a cover." 

Publications also continued to strengthen their IRL presence, with Business of Fashion, Teen Vogue and Vogue all investing heavily in their respective summits and conferences. And, of course, magazine covers are still up for sale, whether explicitly or implicitly: Pretty much every Condé Nast title partnered with Google Pixel for covers late in 2018, and Louis Vuitton got prime cover space on several September issues

But even amongst these changes, there appears to be some hope yet for print. Condé Nast International announced a new Hong Kong edition of Vogue, as well as the revival of  Vogue Greece. Indie magazines continued to lead the way in providing diverse voices and perspectives on newsstands. Interview folded in May of this year, only to find a new backer and fully relaunch before the fall. Essence Ventures LLC acquired Essence from Time, Inc., once again making it a completely Black-owned business.

While it's clear that the media world is still riding out a major wave of change, the repercussions of which may not even be fully felt until years from now, there's still a small light at the end of the tunnel.

Besides, there's always the influencers. Surely, Chiara Ferragni will need a fashion writer or two in the coming years.

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