This fall, teens who want the 411 on skinny jeans will have fewer teen monthly fashion bibles to flip through. But the moves by Elle Girl and Teen People to pull the plug on their publications and focus on their Web sites don't seem to bother 14-year-old Devon Brodsky.
"There are so many other ways to read about fashion," said the Harrison, N.Y., resident. Aside from Teen Vogue, Brodsky gets her fashion fix from entertainment weeklies like In Touch, the Internet and television's E! Entertainment.
Such a blase attitude contrasts sharply with the heated interest among teens back in 1998, when Teen People catapulted onto the scene, spawning a new genre of teen fashion magazines like CosmoGIRL!, Teen Vogue and Elle Girl. But as teens are finding new alternatives in other media, the teen magazine market is undergoing an adolescent crisis.
YM magazine, whose assets were purchased by Conde Nast Publications, closed in early 2005; Hachette Filipacchi Media's Elle Girl and Time Inc.'s Teen People both announced this year they will suspend publication to focus on their Web sites. Executives at Hearst's CosmoGIRL! and Seventeen as well as Conde Nast's Teen Vogue all vow they'll continue publishing, but all are reinventing themselves to follow where teens are going. That means relaunching their Web sites to make them more interactive as well as offering fashion and beauty information through teens' mobile phones.
Meanwhile, Conde Nast's Internet division CondeNet will be unveiling a teen content Web site in early 2007, though company officials declined to comment further.
Officials at Teen People, which is suspending its publication after the September issue, declined an interview.
"You can't just be a magazine editor sitting in your office. You can no longer dictate. It is a two-way street," said Atoosa Rubenstein. Since joining Seventeen as editor-in-chief in July 2003, she has been spearheading a revival of the once-tired 62-year-old publication, which still leads in circulation among teen rivals. Rubenstein had helped to launch CosmoGIRL! as editor-in-chief back in 1999.
Last fall, Rubenstein produced and starred in a reality show called "Miss Seventeen," which aired on MTV. Another television project will be announced soon with a major network, she said. Seventeen is also relaunching its Web site later this fall that will further develop it as a social networking site.
Some analysts are not upbeat about the overall teen magazines' outlook, given competition from online social network sites like MySpace.com. Editors at teen magazines argue that their authoritative voice in fashion sets them apart from other sites out there.
"I think they're overplaying their authority card," said Jon Gibs, director of media analytics at Nielsen/NetRatings Inc., an Internet research company. "As consumers generate media themselves, the idea of an authoritative voice becomes more diluted. What is an authoritative voice? Is it a popular teenager, a brand, a magazine, a journalist or best friend? The whole thing is very fudgeable."
Brodsky noted that while she still loves magazines, she would be more open to getting her fashion information from interactive teen magazine sites than a community site.
Consumers' migration to the Web has hurt overall magazines, but teen publications have been the first group of major consumer publications that have "fallen by the wayside," said Martin S. Walker, chairman of Walker Communications, a magazine consulting firm.
While the overall magazine industry is suffering, industry observers note that teen magazine publishers have their own unique challenges.
First, with their readers outgrowing the magazines every couple of years, publishers have to spend money to replenish their subscriber base.
The fragmented pop culture has also hurt, according to Anne Zehren, who helped launch Teen People as publisher in 1998 and left in 2003. In the late 1990s, the hot teen music idols were few, like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. But teens now have more varied musical tastes, from hip hop to heavy metal, a trend that has diluted magazine newsstand sales.
Moreover, in recent years, kids are spending less time reading magazines, as chatting with their friends on their cell phone or on the Internet have taken center stage in their lives.
Follow the teens
"Magazines are part of this one-way media," said Anastasia Goodstein, a San Francisco-based writer who publishes Ypulse, a blog about Generation Y for media and marketing professionals. Media is now about teens "being in touch with their friends all the time.... We have to follow where teens are hanging out."
Experts say the first big test online comes when Ellegirl.com relaunches its Web site this fall. Anne Sachs, executive editor of Ellegirl.com, reports the Web site has seen traffic increase in July, the month the magazine disappeared from the newsstands.
With the relaunch, the online community will take center stage, Sachs said. Teens can customize parts of the site and stories online will be more focused on their comments, she said. Ellegirl.com is also creating a mobile site called ellegirlMobile.
Other rivals aim to further integrate their publications with the online world.
Seventeen magazine will feature pop star Hilary Duff as a guest editor on its October issue, and will show videos of her putting the issue together on AOL's RED and KOL interactive service for teens and kids, respectively, as well as selective versions on Seventeen.com. Teenvogue.com will feature video podcasts on its site and clips of an October event where about 700 teens will learn about the fashion business from seminars with designers and executives.
CosmoGIRL!'s Web site, which is set to relaunch this year, will air a reality-based "Webisode," featuring graduating college seniors starting Sept. 19. It's also considering offering video based on such magazine fixtures as Project 2024, which spotlights celebrity interviews by college students whose career aspirations match their subjects'.
"Of course we do makeup... but we really do respect our reader," said Susan Schulz, editor-in-chief of CosmoGIRL! "She has bigger plans for herself and we want to feed that part of her soul."