Working as a Lifestyle Magazine Editor

Magazines are everywhere. They are engaging, containing pictures and embracing various topics from lifestyle tips to specific business developments. Usually, they are published weekly or monthly, although it depends on the publication. In the creative industries, magazine publishing is a sector that is constantly growing. As any media sector, it has as its central aim the delivery of a high quality, fresh and enthusiastic content to its readers, both to fulfill its purpose, and to make a profit with each edition.

© Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay.

The process involves production, managed by the editor, and distribution – handled by the publication. Both parties are complementary, with the interest of creating and selling a product to the public. This essay's focus is on lifestyle magazines and everything that involves the role of an editor. In order to investigate the subject, I will look at two influential examples of lifestyle magazines from the UK–British Vogue and Cosmopolitan–and the implications and career paths of their current editors. With this in mind, I align the arguments throughout the paper across two main chapters. The first chapter outlines the activities, the organizations contained within the sector, but it also looks at how the magazine industry makes money and the products and services it offers. The second chapter concentrates on the lifestyle magazine editor role, from the career paths and employment structures to the skills required, the essential activities and implications an editor has. It also analyzes the role regarding the concepts of “good and bad work” proposed by David Hesmondhalgh and Sarah Baker in their book Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries (2011). The purpose of the piece is to understand the sector and the experience of a lifestyle magazine editor.

Magazine Publishing

First, the usual way of outlining the magazine publishing industry is business and consumer. The business titles are more about the trends and developments “in a particular industry” (Morrish, 2003, p. 10), while consumer titles include “both general interest and specialist areas” (Prospects, 2020). This essay focuses on consumer magazines, more specifically lifestyle magazines.

The contemporary magazine publishing manages the creative activities according to the style of the organization contained within it. According to Rosamund Davies & Sightorsson (2013, p. 45), there are three types of organisations: freelancers, small-to-medium-sized enterprises and large, multinational corporations. For instance, Vogue is owned by Condé Nast (Cox et al., 2012, p. 11), which acquired Vogue in 1909, but at the top of the ownership structure stands Advance Publications (Forbes, 2020). Similarly, Cosmopolitan is owned by another large organization, Hearst UK (Hearst UK, 2020). According to the British Vogue’s (2020) profile on LinkedIn, the creative activities are divided between “1001-5000 employees”, while Cosmopolitan (2020) has “51-200 employees” – all being paid on salary. However, both may work with freelancers for certain specialised features, the fee being, per 1000 words, “£700 for a large magazine” (Prospects, 2020). Given that these magazines are owned by large companies, both the budget for salaries and the number of employees involved in handling the content are more substantial and ensure the safety for the magazine's longevity. Also, due to the success of durability, the number of advertisers increases, and the reputation is notable.

Although both magazines were originally founded in New York, they also considered UK magazine business because it is “the envy of the world and is well-placed for international expansion” (Stam et al., 2014, p. 4). While Vogue has “26 international editions” (Condé Nast, 2020) with “24.9 million monthly readers” (ibid.), Cosmopolitan has “50 international editions” (Walker et al., 2020) with “3.5 million total brand reach” (Hearst, 2020). These are influential and stable titles, which have survived the technological changes throughout the years. Magazine publishers have expanded their activities to the digital medium as an “extension to the paper product” (Morrish, 2003, p. 106), inspiring “confidence in the future” (Stam et al., 2014, p. 6). The publisher’s role stops after the innovation of the online business model and the distribution, while the editor’s job is to manage the production of the magazine; nowadays, that means both the digital and paper formats. John Morrish (2003, p. 173-174) believes that the online imitation of the paper version is a “nonstarter”, even if it involves the readers directly, due to the comment section, which has given them “endless opportunities to give their view” (Stam et al., 2014, p. 2). Others consider it not a “stand-alone version” (ibid., p. 45), although the good part is that the content reaches an international audience, the traditional business model seeing changes itself. For both, the print and the digital version, the publication is still dealing with “cash-flow” (ibid.), which means “the movement of money into and out of a business as goods are bought and sold” (Lexico, 2020).

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Across any medium, one secret for a long-lasting title represents the strategy and the business model. Lifestyle magazines focus on feature writing which “offers great scope for creativity and ingenuity” (Morrish, 2003, p. 137) and the writer “is allowed to be a participant in the story” (ibid.), aspects that set a much more personal tone and experience to the reader. The emotional factor is the principal one editors have in mind when they manage the content to appeal to the “wider interests and aspirations” (ibid., p. 130-131) of the readers. In addition, consistency is essential, so the magazine includes “regulars”, elements that are “intended to be reassuringly similar from week to week or month to month” (ibid., p. 138-139). This content, as many scholars say, represents the strategic model of any magazine. Although the structure is almost the same, the business model varies.

Cosmopolitan is all about the fearless and fun woman, therefore one of its models is the “problem-solution” one, which is a way of “tutoring her in the ways of this world” (Machin et al., 2003, p. 507). This type of business model is linked to their revenue model; most of their advertisements, such as “beauty products, clothing” (The Media Ant, 2019) are relevant for the audience which is “80% female” (ibid.).

Condé Nast approached it differently for Vogue, from a perspective of “class fashion magazine” (Cox et al., 2012, p. 10), with an exclusive audience in mind – successful young women interested in fashion - and attracting “advertisers of luxury goods” (ibid.). Working with advertisers represents a “critical source of revenue” (Cox et al., 2012, p. 22) for consumer magazines. Advertisers buy “a greater level” (Stam et al., 2014, p. 4) of space in the print form, while digitally they will “not pay print equivalent amounts” (ibid., 2014, p. 45), showing that, financially, print circulation still dominates. According to John Morrish (2003, p. 18), making money is “the essence of publishing” and they do that through sales of multiple copies. Another revenue represents the subscriptions; both mail and online. According to Vogue’s (2020) website, they offer deals, such as a trial of “3 issues for £1”, including free home delivery and instant digital access. After the trial, the price is £19 every six months. Equally, Cosmopolitan (2020) offers a deal at “£23.99” for one year, but the price is separately for print and digital editions. A digital advertising strategy is to promote their items through social media platforms, allowing the customer to buy it from there. Both sell merchandise online through their shops, from t-shirts to art. Additionally, the newsletters that came before to the door are now accessible through email sign-up for the previous examples, beside “invitations to exclusive reader events, the best subscription offers and much more” (Vogue, 2020).

Lifestyle Magazine Editor

A magazine cannot exist without an editor who needs to “to see the world through the reader’s eyes” (Morrish, 2003, p. 29), but also to manage the production team and the product itself. While women’s magazines have mostly women, there is an “equal gender balance in the occupation” (Prospects, 2019). Therefore, depending on the type of organization and the tone of the brand's voice, an editor is employed, in most cases promoted from the role of deputy editor or assistant editor, and reports to a publishing director. Frequently, this relationship is “equal-but-different” (Morrish, 2003, p. 222) and it identifies “complementary interests” (ibid.). The key role of an editor is “to reflect the values, narratives and culture” (Machin et al., 2003, p. 495) of the specific audience the title has and explore those through the vision implemented. In order to be a successful editor, you need to be passionate about the brand which “has a personality of its own” (Morrish, 2003, p. 20).

© Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

To become an editor is not simple, given that it is not an entry-level job since a certain grade of professional “maturity” (ibid., p. 218) is necessary in order to be a leader and a manager that “ensures that the magazine thrives and that everyone involved prospers” (ibid., p. 57). Authority is fundamental to the editor in order to keep his/her editorial strategy compelling and to ensure that the business model of the title is set in place, as well as the accuracy within the content. Another essential skill is decision-making because editorship is “full of decisions” (ibid., p. 57) from the contents page to all the features and the editor’s letter. In order to be organised, editors need to have strong time-management skills to schedule the creative activities and to know “what goes where” (ibid., p. 189). The visuality of the magazine, the cover and pictures within it, represent another key element in order “to sell the issue” (ibid., p. 166). While it is the editor’s responsibility, the decision process is sometimes a “clash of cultures between journalists and magazine staff with a design background” (ibid., p. 145).

The editor must carry the hiring process, monitoring the training, but also dismissing staff, only to enhance the “magazine’s reputation” (ibid., p. 140). “Editors will be involved in endless negotiations” (ibid., p. 71), so negotiation and communications skills are important when working with freelancers and advertisers. A symbol of the editorial strategy is the administration and management of the budget, regarding “both revenue, which means income earned, and expenses, which means costs incurred” (ibid., p. 93-94), but also incentives. The editor should produce “the best possible magazine for people to advertise in” (ibid., p. 103). Once the product is accomplished and sold, it must “make a return on the investment put into it” (Davies & Sigthorsson, 2013, p. 158). Awareness of the procedures of the legal matters “depending on the areas in which they operate” (Morrish, 2003, p. 210) is indispensable, such as ethical issues, values and health and safety policies.

The career path is based on experience and knowledge of market that could come from being an editorial assistant which is “an entry-level job” (Prospects, 2020), followed by the deputy editor role. In an article for Cosmopolitan (2019), Amy Grier revealed her big jump - being an intern for “over a year” before becoming the deputy editor of Cosmopolitan. This example is not always the case. While some positions are posted online, the role of an editor could be found through industry contacts by networking, which “is an important skill to acquire and practise” (Davies et al., 2013, p. 68). For example, going to events where industry people are, could be an excellent choice. Meeting them, building a strong relationship and sharing aspirations could represent a phone call, at some point, when an editor’s position is available. As with any creative role in the industry, there are certain aspects which differentiates it from being good work or bad work.

Good work involves “autonomy, interest and involvement, sociality, self-esteem, self-realisation, work-life balance and security” (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2011, p. 36). Bad work means the contradiction of these. Some “good work” concepts are covered across the chapters. In an interview for a press release of Hearst (2019), Claire Hodgson, Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief, said that she is “obsessed with the brand”, while British Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, is taking the brand “into the new age” (Millar, 2017). These facts show the great level of involvement, determination and passion the two editors have regarding their job. Cosmopolitan’s editor is “thrilled to be taking the helm” (Hearst, 2019), whilst British Vogue’s editor considers that the role “excites” (Indvik, 2019) him. Their self-esteem has increased surely, through “their sense of fulfilment and development” (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2011, p. 32-33) doing what brings them excitement. Alexandra Shulman, the previous Vogue’s editor, has been awarded “an OBE in 2005 for services to the magazine industry” (Millar, 2017), while Claire Hodgson has won for the brand the title of “Digital Brand of the Year” (Hearst, 2019), proving that the concept of “self-realisation” (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2011, p. 33) is present in an editor’s life through “achievement of its own potential” (ibid.).

Another aspect of good work for an editor is represented by the creation of products “that promote aspects of the common good” (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2011, p. 36). A great example is Vogue, which, according to Edward Enninful, is trying to make a change, tackling subjects such as “climate change, race, age” (Indvik, 2019), but also Cosmopolitan, which is “empowering and championing young women everywhere” (Hearst, 2019), according to its editor. Delivering the produced issue gives them “a sense of shared participation in the attempt to achieve excellence” (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2011, p. 38) in a creative community. Belonging to a large organization which promoted the individual to the senior role, could mean security of a monthly income, but also of position.

Regarding the “bad work” concepts, isolation can represent the role considering the level of responsibilities and the fact that there is no senior position above the editor, from whom to get production advice. Here, it is in contradiction with autonomy because to “operate independently” (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2011, p. 40) could feel empowering sometimes, depending on the person’s personality. Determination is extremely important, therefore asking for advice frequently could seem unprepared, considering deciding it is one requirement for the job. Another aspect identified as bad work is the “work-life balance” because the work of an editor includes “a lot of responsibility and tight deadlines, which can make the job stressful” (Prospects, 2019) and the working hours are not stable, there are “occasional late nights to meet deadlines” (ibid.), which means leisure and family time may be less depending on the amount of work that needs to be done. An editor’s life does not consist of a 9-to-5 normal working days, because of the fixed responsibilities and the tight deadlines of producing an issue.

In conclusion, magazine publishing in the United Kingdom “has been just too successful” (Stam et al., 2014, p. 43). It is expensive to produce and distribute, even if the digital version does not include the printing process, from blank papers to a great product. The costs are insignificant when the publication analysis the profit from sales and advertisers. The product and its reach to the target audience are what matters the most to both publishers and editors. Considering the examples analysed, having a solid business model and an impressive strategy from the beginning preserves a valuable reputation for both advertisers and customers, which means the revenues are increased over time. Depending on the demand, sometimes publishers make extra copies of the issue. However, being open to change is extremely significant for a lasting brand, since the developments of technology extend the business models to the digital medium; most of the magazines have an online presence, beside the print format. When it comes to the products and services the magazine industry offers, there are the two versions of the content, print and digital, but also merchandise through their online shops and newsletters. The content is managed and produced by the production team, with the editor at the top of the hierarchy.

As seen already, the career path to the role of an editor is complicated, based on experience and many learnt skills, from decision-making skill to negotiation skill, as well as the time-management skill and knowledge of the market. An editor guides the team to succeed, while reporting to the publisher. Therefore, considering there are more “good work” aspects and that the role of an editor is complicated to obtain, it could fulfil the aspirations and self-esteem of a person. All things considered, determination and persistence are the key elements of working as a lifestyle magazine editor in the magazine publishing sector.


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