Ian Burrell: To fashionistas, 'Vogue' is tangible; something you hold in your hand

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Quinn's Book is a slim volume that the veteran publisher of Vogue takes with him to meetings with the media agencies which make the key decisions on where to spend the advertising budgets of big brands.

It contains information that runs contrary to accepted thinking on public tastes, revealing that the affluent and style-obsessed readers of the self-proclaimed Bible of Fashion still prefer print to digital. "You go into media buying companies now and they say: 'Print's dead. You're a dinosaur, Stephen'," says Stephen Quinn, 68, Vogue publisher for the past 20 years. "But guess what? I'm Irish and combative and I'm at my best when they start being abusive."

Quinn's Book contains the results of a recent YouGov study of 2,500 Vogue readers showing that 87 per cent wanted the brand's content in the traditional luxurious magazine format versus 8 per cent who preferred the digital attractions of Vogue.com and an iPad app.

Vogue readers – 76 per cent of whom do not look at the website – see the printed magazine as "inspiring and glamorous and beautifully designed", says Quinn. "This Quinn Book is what I always have when I go to see clients – then I'm ready for anything they can throw at me."

Despite these words, he concedes that he is not the best advocate for the new media platforms that are changing the face of publishing."I am known to be passionate about the magazine and I leave it to others to embrace digital," he admits.

In September, Vogue will relaunch its iPad app as a monthly offering. The app, which has been coming out sporadically since it launched at the end of 2010, has generated only around 3,000 sales per issue. By going monthly, he says, "you can be part of the Apple store and be part of the different formats, Zinio and all of them and really start to build".

The Vogue.com editorial team has been integrated alongside that of the magazine and Conde Nast Digital (including sites of other key brands such as Glamour and GQ) generates annual revenues of £8m. "You're looking at a business which is as big as a GQ or a Tatler," Quinn says, hinting at a Conde Nast hierarchy.

Vogue itself makes £25m a year in advertising revenues and Quinn is not shy to mention that his numbers are up by 8.5 per cent for the first quarter of this year, compared to 2011. The magazine keeps hiking its cover price by 10p a year, but maintains circulation at around 210,000. He admits to a fall in advertising revenue during the 2009 downturn, though the 18 per cent fall off was ahead of the market, which dropped 25 per cent. More recently, money has continued to flow due to British Vogue's association with London.

"There is all the international business here, whose executives work in very highly paid jobs and are fuelling the turnover in our top quality stores. Harrods has crashed through the £1 billion and so has Selfridges for 2011."

Vogue's durability also derives from its stability. Editor Alexandra Shulman celebrates 20 years in post this month. She meets her publisher every four weeks. "Alex and I don't live in each other's pockets. It's not church and state [separation] but we respect that we have different roles."

Quinn, who is famously the husband of the former Spectator publisher and author, Kimberly Quinn, has no intention of retiring. "I have a young family and I can't afford to retire," he quips, while noting that since he passed retirement age, "I have turned in a blue chip performance every year". Sitting at his desk in Vogue House, beneath a framed Mario Testino picture of "models and society beauties", Quinn works alongside a team of "educated Home Counties girls" and says he is proud that Conde Nast numbers five women on its 12-strong board. He is a judge each year at Veuve Clicquot's Business Woman of the Year Award, which is another opportunity for networking with high end clients.

Fiercely competitive, he observes that the rival Hearst Magazines has parted company with several longstanding publishers who he admires, notably Tess Macleod Smith (who has quit Harper's Bazaar and Esquire for Net-a-Porter.com) and executive group publishing director, Lizzie Kershaw.

He is not impressed by IPC's recent decision to cut the price of Marie Claire to £2. "Once you offer a magazine for £2 you can't go back to £3.60. We would not risk discounting the cover price of Vogue," he says.

Vogue sells for a hefty £4.10, but he will resist any temptation to win additional circulation with cover-mounted extras.

"If you [offer] a cheap nail varnish or a T-shirt from a designer which has been produced in the Far East for 50p you are undermining the sale to your top level brand advertisers," he sniffs. "If you are a premium magazine you must never do something which makes the advertiser think you haven't got affluent readers."