Vogue's September issue is so legendary they made a movie about the 840-page September 2007 doorstopper and its 727 ad pages, so the fact that this year's 916-page issue includes 658 pages of ads ought to tell us something, right? Mostly, it tells us that Vogue, and its glossy magazine sisters, are experiencing a recovery far better than the rest of the country. This year's issue is the biggest since Sept. 2007, weighing in at four pounds, 10 ounces -- one ounce more than 2007. But the ad pages are fewer, which means the issue hasn't generated as much income for Vogue as its predecessor. Still, it's the best they've done since that famous brick. As Ned Martel writes in The Washington Post: "In the pages of Vogue, the forecast is always a little sunnier."
Martel, former deputy editor of Men's Vogue, offers a fun look at the September issue as an economic indicator, but it's not an exact one. The trend since 2007 has roughly followed the national economy: In September 2008 the magazine dropped 7 percent of its ad pages to 674, right as the economy crashed and Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. In 2009 the September issue carried just 447 ad pages, but it grew to 532 in 2010 and 584 in 2011. The jump to 658 this year represents a 12.67 gain, but other economic indicators don't follow. Unemployment has gone down one percent since Sept. 2011, and GDP growth is about the same.
The jump in Vogue's business doesn't necessarily mean people are doing better, but it means they're fantasizing more about doing better. At least that's Martel's point, and it makes sense:
Besides actual clothing, fashion magazines sell ideals and aspirations, which can seem more valuable when economic conditions deem them less affordable. After four years of peril, these titles are all suddenly thriving, from the avant-garde (W has 412 pages) to the moms-and-proms (InStyle at 652). “The only trend I can say is that high-end women’s fashion magazines are doing much better than magazines as a whole,” said Steve Cohn, who edits the Media Industry Newsletter.
It also means more advertisers find it worthwhile to buy space in these magazines, which suggests they think the glossy pages will translate to sales. At some point, somebody buys that fur and fashion.