“I Conducted a Magazine Audit” Club

I’ve had a love affair with glossy magazines for as long as I can remember. When I was an immigrant kid, I even prized those subscription squares from the TV Guide. I always painstakingly filled each one out, as if it was my job. To this day, I attest my beautiful penmanship to those writing drills I gave myself.

As a journalism major at NYU, I adored my “Feature Article, Magazine Writing” class. One of our guest speakers, writer Kevin Sessums, wrote for Vanity Fair. He came in spilling raunchy details from his celebrity interviews and I thought, “This is totally the gig for me. I am SO GOOD at getting stuff out of people.” I reflect at the naivety of the 19-year-old me and simultaneously think, “I am still frighteningly good at getting things out of people. How can I use this to a monetary advantage?”

Instead of journalism, I embarked on an uneventful, yet fun career in advertising and marketing and played around, box to box in the Manhattan sky. But life has shaken up my snow globe and I am in the flurry of it all, at the keyboard every day. Nowadays my magazine reading is predominantly done online, but after a “Pick 3 magazines subscriptions for $2 each” offer popped up after a recent Amazon purchase, I behaved like a conditioned American buyer and signed right up for Vanity Fair, InStyle, Real Simple, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and National Geographic’s Traveler. Six! I went for the deal TWICE! Initially, I predicted these glossies would be grant me a magic mail day, but instead these bound pages have overtaken the corner of the bathroom floor, no longer containable in my colorful TJ-Maxx basket.

One Sunday morning in a cleaning spree, I moved all of the magazines to the living room, promising myself I would tackle them later that day. I didn’t and instead, my husband helped with the cleaning by bringing them to the recycling pile in our building’s garbage room. It took me a week to realize they were gone and he confessed the misunderstanding.

The InStyles always get backed up; they are better with a pedicure or a bath perhaps when you want to chat with someone and still flip the pages through some eye candy. This morning I thought to myself, “I bet I could read all of the content in this 307-page magazine with my morning coffee, maybe 30 minutes.” So I did. I’ve often said, “half of this magazine is actually ads,” but this morning I geeked out and deconstructed the magazine to discover the true advertising-to-content ratio.

InStyle – April 2016: DECONSTRUCTED

    • 307 pages including back cover
  • The Ads:
      • 147 pages of ads = 48% of magazine
      • 37 2-page ads
      • 78 1-page ads
      • 18 1-page Magazine House ads or Directory-type pages
      • J-Crew had a 4-page spread on thicker stock
    • Sam Edelman had a 4-page spread back to back on regular pages
  • Special Inserts:
      • 2 cardboard insert subscription cards.
      • 1 fancy, 3-page thicker-than-usual, but smaller than magazine pages, insert for Cover Girl. These are sandwiched between two regular magazine ads, making it a total 8-page advertising extravaganza?
    • 4 smelly perfume inserts, including the back page one that accommodates the back page ad.
  • Page Numbers:
      • The page numbers of a magazine have always been a mystery. Which sheets get a number on the bottom corner? I’ve discerned it’s not simply the odd or even numbers; it seems random. I theorized that maybe only stories in the Directory get page numbers, but no! Example: the Directory lists a story on page 24, but no “24” exists in type on the bottom corner of the page as it ought to be. I wonder if it’s graphic designer’s choice? 
      • Page 28 is the first page with a page number listed.
      • 109 of the 307 pages get a page number; this is roughly 35.5% .
    • Some ads are part of the page number system and some are not. Why? Does this revolve around timing when they got their ads into production on time?
  • Real Content:
      • I define “real content” by information they curated or wrote for the exclusive publication rather than advertising-sponsored content.
      • There were 147 pages of “real content,” but of those, only 42 pages were covered in words.
      • “Real content” doesn’t start until after page 61.
      • Hard to tell ads from content – obviously done as deliberate trickery.
      • Why did they choose to place the three, multi-page, celebrity fashion spreads all together in a row? (Like 3 dry cleaners on the same block.) Was this supposed to create the allure of a comprehensive content section?
      • About 14% of the magazine are words (about 42 pages).
    • About 33% of the magazine mostly pictures with a sentence of writing.

There were no great revelations from my audit. I reassured myself that InStyle is not the ideal publication for content submission. My journalistic instincts tempted me to peek inside the latest issue of Vanity Fair with the lovely Jennifer Garner on the cover. 235 pages; a shorter pub. Once again, I started flipping pages and tallying. From the get-go, the distinctions were obvious. Vanity Fair had EVEN MORE ADS. In fact, I went 98 pages before I reached “real content.” 

Quick Vanity Fair Stats:

    • 99 pages of “real content” = 42% of the magazine
    • 46 of “real content” were full-page photos, leaving 53 pages of words = 22.5%
    • 152 pages of ads = 64% of the magazine
  • There are much more multi-page ads in Vanity Fair, including a 16-page spread, an 8-page spread, and nine 4-page spreads

The biggest shock will come sometime in the future when I reread this piece and gawk at how I spent a day of my life creating spreadsheets to validate my magazine suspicions.

See below: This is a clear indication of mania.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 6.53.24 PM

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