Fashion Magazines Turn to Reality TV to Stay Relevant

September covers.

Newsstand sales and ad pages are down pretty much across the board for monthly fashion magazines. In times like these, women aren't spending as much money on magazines in stores as they used to, and they aren't spending as much money on the fashion the magazines plug, either. Indeed, plugging outfits that each cost more than a year (or two or three) of college tuition isn't what most women want shoved gallantly in their faces in These Economic Times (but has it ever been, really?). So in this year's September issues, many fashion monthlies pushed frugal finds to woo readers. Both Harper's Bazaar and Vogue pushed "stylish steals" on their September covers in an attempt to stay relevant.

But their efforts don't stop there: Many lady magazines are looking for reality-TV shows to either sponsor or essentially star in. Elle was the first to do this, with Project Runway (which is now sponsored by Marie Claire), when it premiered six seasons ago on Bravo. "All editors are spending a lot of time thinking about television because it's one way of making the magazine stay relevant," Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles tells AdWeek. "When everybody's clamoring for newsstand attention, anything that brings the brand to people's attention is helpful." This is probably why Anna Wintour is stepping so much into the public eye lately, with the release of R.J. Cutler's Vogue documentary, The September Issue — instead of reality television, Vogue chose the big screen. Marie Claire sold more single-copy issues after its reality show Running With Heels premiered on the Style network.

However, reality TV doesn't always work out: Elle's Stylista competition reality show — in which intolerable contestants vied for an internship at the magazine and a sizable H&M gift card flopped — won't return for a second season. The magazine has since taken in Olivia Palermo on a PR-assistant sort of role, and she'll appear on second season of The City, which we already know is a much better show than Stylista. Harper's Bazaar is also trying to get its "Fabulous at Every Age" feature on television in some capacity. And surely Project Runway's record season-six premiere suggests the nation's appetite for fashion reality television remains far from satiated.

But maybe the real problem with fashion magazines these days is not a lack of visibility in the realty-television arena, but a lack of content that readers can truly use. Sure, they can do features on finds for under $500, but most women might get more out of a feature about items under, say, $200. Also, the magazines might consider images of women who don't already look emaciated in real life, only to have their kneecaps erased, noses de-crooked, and thighs slimmed in Photoshop. You know, things the everyday women can relate to. Maybe that's why reality TV is so popular. The events might be 99 percent staged, but the people on them mostly aren't wearing $2,000 pencil skirts and avoiding pasta as though it were a toxic substance.

The Delicate Balance [AdWeek]