Jo Elvin has edited the UK’s leading women’s monthly magazine, Glamour, since its launch in 2001. As Retail Newsagent celebrates its 125th anniversary, she met fellow editor Chris Gamm to discuss her belief that printed magazines will remain the mainstay of the Glamour brand for the forseeable future.

In August 2004, Glamour magazine had just overtaken FHM to become the top-selling monthly magazine. The four-year-old pioneer of the handbag-sized format sold 511,171 full-price newsstand copies in the January-June Audit Bureau of Circulation results. FHM sold 500,038.

Nearly 10 years later, Glamour is selling an average of 297,644 copies on the newsstand each month to FHM’s 44,571.

[pull_quote_right]I see print as the priority for leading what the rest of the brand does. It will still be the mothership in 10 years[/pull_quote_right]

Against a backdrop of falling magazine sales, why has the women’s magazine market fared so much better than men’s, what does the future look like for the category, and what can independent retailers do to sell more copies? RN went for breakfast with Glamour editor Jo Elvin to find out.

“Within the climate of economic downturn and much softer print sales, there’s still close to half a million women [410,480 including subscribers] who pay money for Glamour every month when there’s lots of free content online,” she says.

“I hear a lot in the press about how badly print is doing. I think we’re still doing phenomenally well. We’re still selling pretty much what we did 10 years ago in a completely different economy and market.”

Her passion for print is clear, and in stark contrast to the recent PPA conference, where the focus was digital innovation and it took until the afternoon session for a publisher to mention growing print sales.

Click here for the video of Jo Elvin talking about the future of women’s magazines.

“You have to embrace the fact the future is about growing your brand on several different platforms and being there for your audience in every format. Print is and will remain the mothership, but then we reach them via our website every day. It’s a completely different operation to a newspaper where you take what you’ve done that day and stick it online. Our website has the brand values, look and tone of Glamour print, but it’s news updated countless times a day.

“I see print as the priority for leading what the rest of the brand does. It will still be the mothership in 10 years, and I don’t see sales drastically changing, considering its stability in such a tumultuous market, but all other aspects of the brand will grow.”

This is down to a number of factors, including the magazine’s position as an affordable luxury and a trend of younger women turning to the category – starting with her daughter.

“Like everyone else, I sit on my phone and get news every day. No matter what you do as a magazine brand online, it doesn’t replicate the beauty of that glossy photography. It’s a luxury product at a reasonable price, with an accessible, attainable set of brand values.

“I’m finding even younger women love that tactility of print, the sleek thing you can hold. As we become so much more digitalised, it’s the glossy magazines that are even more of a treat.

“My nine-year-old knows when Girl Talk is on sale and rushes to buy it. I always wondered if I should let her buy a magazine like that, but it has recently broadened the content beyond how to look pretty and I love the fact that she’s buying magazines. She’s started a blog because Girl Talk told her to.

“As someone who grew up with magazines and has a career in them, I find it inspiring and I believe that good magazines can do a lot for their audience in terms of being motivational.” 

The main reason Ms Elvin says her category has outperformed men’s titles, though, is women’s love of magazines.

“Women love their magazines and are the biggest sector of people buying them in this country,” she says. “There’s no accounting for our humanness. Yes, something can be more convenient, but the heart wants what it wants in terms of a bit of luxury.

“It’s why the category has fared fairly well and why I think its future is more secure.”

The good news for retailers is that Glamour is working hard to provide a product that women look forward to and seek out in their shops every month.

“The challenge for all magazines, but particularly women’s titles, is that people expect a certain set of issues and content and editorial consistency so you know what the magazine is all about. But at the same time, you have to try and be different each month. It’s a bit of a stealth game. 

“We try really hard to hit you between the eyes, create noise on the cover and pull at the emotions on a coverline. One of the things readers like about Glamour is that within that issue there is going to be something you didn’t expect to be in a women’s magazine.

“It’s trial that works for me. I read all my reader emails every day and I still get ones saying ‘I didn’t read Glamour before but now I buy it.’”

One of the things Ms Elvin says she loves most about being the editor, though, is retaining the magazine’s relevance to its readers and giving them an incentive to go out and buy the next copy.

“Like any journalist, you have to stay switched on, stay curious, stay informed. I also surround myself with younger journalists. I don’t know what Tinder is, but I work with several people who do. It’s about being aware of what they’re talking about, what their friends are talking about, what’s happening in real life. The moment I’m not relevant I’ll be booted out.” 

Ms Elvin says Glamour’s biggest competitor is the iPhone, not another magazine, but she is no longer losing sleep over free content.

“I don’t love anyone giving content away for free. I used to worry about things like Asos and Stylist having a massive impact because they’re free, but people are still paying for Glamour in their droves. At the end of the day, I am happy to say that to an advertiser, rather than ‘look at my big circulation figure’ when it’s being thrown at people outside tube stations.”

The important role local shops play in driving Glamour sales is attributed to independent retailers’ closeness to their customers and their ability to spot an opportunity for an extra sale.

“Independents are our most important retailer. They get 20% of the print run, which is bigger than any supermarket’s share. They always get our special promotions. We did a big-sized format alongside the normal edition for a fashion issue in March. Most of it went to independents and we saw a really good sales uplift, so I’m very grateful to them for taking it and displaying it well. 

“When we do things like that it’s important to communicate so retailers make facings alongside the regular issue. Retailers know which customers buy Glamour, and so who will love the one-off edition. It’s teaching retailers to suck eggs, but it needs to be there in a decent quantity, visible, in the correct competitive section. We work really hard making a great product and it will sell if people know it’s there.

“My local shop in Sydenham isn’t the most glamorous shop you’ve ever seen, but it’s got stacks of magazines and I love it. That’s where we go for my daughter’s Girl Talk, because they’ve always got it in. The fact that it’s thriving on a commercialised high street with a Tesco, a Co-op, a huge middle eastern supermarket and two other independents is fantastic.

“I must be the only magazine editor in the world who shops there and they’ve never got Glamour. I never tell him though.”