2013 will see publishing giant Condé Nast launch a French version of Vanity Fair. The US magazine already publishes international editions in Britain, Spain and Italy and latest member of the Vanity Fair family is set to hit French newsstands before next summer.
Executives will be hoping that further expansion in the European market will compensate for disappointing ad revenue and circulation figures in the US. At the beginning of this year Vanity Fair USA saw circulation decline by almost 5 per cent to 1.22 million. The New York Times reports that Q2 figures for 2012 show that total advertising revenue for the US magazine rose 5.9 per cent, but ‘the number of advertising pages declined by 1 per cent.’
Overseas expansion is nothing new for the magazine that combines high fashion with in-depth and often hard-hitting political and investigative journalism. Previous attempts to develop the Vanity Fair brand for an international audience have produced mixed results. A German edition of the magazine was shut down in 2009 just two years after its launch, after it failed to attract the revenues it needed to weather the global economic crisis. There was also the suggestion from some journalists working for the German Vanity Fair that the magazine had diverged from the high editorial standards of its US sister publication. One former editor from the German magazine told The Guardian that “it had nothing to do with the Vanity Fair I knew from America. They converted it into a weekly magazine covering cheap celebrity crap.”
Meanwhile Vanity Fair Italia has seamlessly combined celebrity interviews and fashion segments with coverage of the Arab spring and Italian politics, reproducing the mix of style and substance that originally made the US version so successful. Headed by editor-in-chief Luca Dini, the Italian publication has been defying national trends, which have seen magazine advertising shrink by fifteen per cent, with a 5 per cent increase in the number of advertising pages it carries.
Perhaps because memory of the German magazine’s failure still lingers, senior executives at Condé Nast have been keen to emphasise the high journalistic standards that readers can expect from the French Vanity Fair. The head of Condé Nast’s French operations, Xavier Romatet, says that France’s Vanity Fair will invest time and money into producing “quality journalism [and] long-form articles.” Roughly ninety per cent of the magazine’s content will be original and tailored to the cultural and political tastes of its French readership.
Focus groups of female readers who have been shown prototypes of the French edition approved of its “combination of hard news and glamour, according to former French GQ editor Anne Boulay, who will serve as editor-in-chief of the new magazine. An impressive array of experienced editorial staff has already been recruited to Vanity Fair France’s ranks, notably editorial director Michel Denisot the journalist and presenter of political talk show Le Grand Journal. Hervé Gattegno, head of weekly political magazine Le Point’s investigative journalism operations will direct Vanity Fair’s investigative projects.
The decision to recruit heavyweights from the world of journalism and politics is a clear indication of Vanity Fair France’s belief that quality reporting, not just glossy celebrity photographs, are central to the creation of a stable reader-base. The success of recent long-form journalism projects at Vanity Fair US, including Michael Lewis’s recent profile of President Obama, would seem to suggest that the French edition will feature similar political portraits, interviews and reports.
As online news is increasingly dominated by short, constantly updated articles and a growing number of print newspapers no longer have the budgets necessary to commissioning in-depth reports, lovers of long form have been turning to specialist websites and tablet devices. Vanity Fair France could prove that there is still a demand for lengthy journalism pieces in mainstream print publications.
With Romatet declaring that the new magazine "will give back a little nobility to the press and to readers ill-served by the speed, the 140 characters of a Tweet, the stolen photos” all the signs seem to indicate that long-form journalism, in France at least, is about to find a new champion.
Image: Victorian Web