The Glamour And The Gloss

Wearing three-inch stilettos and a giant Chanel ring on one hand, Anne Lim-Chaplain strides purposefully to a shelf in her office. The managing director of the lifestyle magazine Prestige Hong Kong picks up a prototype of her third-anniversary issue, due on newsstands in September, and tosses the 800-page volume on her desk, where it lands with a thud. Even compared with 2007's record profits, advertising for the first quarter of the year is up 41 percent. "Things are very good," says Lim-Chaplain, "The rich will always be a good bet."

Lifestyle magazines—slickly produced publications catering to the wants and desires of the wealthy elite—are flourishing in a global media environment where little else is. Every few days, a lifestyle glossy is born somewhere. The large-format, highly stylized books that typically focus on clothing and consumption have even lured some unusual punters to the table. Suffering severe advertising declines in its regular pages, the formerly staid Wall Street Journal will launch its much anticipated WSJ. magazine in September, following the successes of the New York Times' T Style and the Financial Times' How to Spend It.

This passion for fashion and other frivolities is, of course, as much about publishers' bottom lines as about hemlines. No one loves disposable income more than an advertiser. "There is growth in these magazine markets, coming from a low base, especially in India and China," says Vivek Couto, head of research at the boutique consultancy Media Partners Asia. Compared with general-interest publications, lifestyle magazines offer a more efficient dispersion of the ad dollar. "It's like pay television," says Couto. "Niche makes sense. You are targeting a top-scale consumer with good purchasing power."

Glossies also benefit greatly from the kinds of advertisers they attract. While many brands moved much of their marketing money to Web-based campaigns and television, luxury companies have remained fiercely loyal to published products. According to The Nielsen Company, the international data-research group, the $150 billion luxury industry invests 22 percent of its total advertising budgets in newspapers and an overwhelming 76 percent in magazines. The tactile nature of the glossy magazine remains the ideal vehicle for an industry built on exquisite craftsmanship and sensual experiences. "You have to feel and touch luxury," says Lim-Chaplain. "Our magazines are oversize, filled with beautiful pictures, beautiful people. It shouts luxury."

Critics argue that the glossies are so beholden to advertisers that they have lost any semblance of editorial independence. "It's not even as if there is a line that keeps getting crossed," says author Toby Young, whose experiences as a young staffer at Vanity Fair prompted him to write the bestselling memoir "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," due out as a film in October. "There is no line."

It's a complaint that doesn't particularly keep lifestyle editors up at night. Barrie Goodridge, the chief executive of Edipresse Asia, a local unit of the Swiss media giant that publishes 10 different Asian editions of Tatler, says the close bond with advertisers is more organic than dictated. "I don't tell my editors what to write but the DNA of the magazines is positive spin," he says. Peter Comparelli, editor of Prestige Hong Kong, says that he aims to uphold the standards of fairness, quality and good design, but believes readers understand who butters his bread. "There is a lot more influence from clients because that is the nature of the beast," he says. "There is some blurring and I think readers know what is going on."

Hong Kong, home to 7 million, is one of the region's biggest advertising markets and is served by no fewer than four English-language magazines focused on high society and high living. In the 12 months ending in March, 49 luxury brands tracked by Nielsen spent $66.9 million in advertising in Hong Kong—29 percent more than in the previous year, thanks to new companies entering the market and more-established players spending more on advertising. "Our readers want to feel like part of the luxe lifestyle, the A-list," says Comparelli. Half-jokingly he adds, "We have a rule: we don't feature cars that a Prestige editor can afford." The approach is paying off handsomely: this month Comparelli's publication, which has a circulation of 30,000, offers 328 pages of beautiful frocks, as well as articles on recent soirées, the new Mercedes sedan and fine wines.

What lifestyle publishers ultimately serve up is an integrated marketing opportunity that goes beyond their magazine pages. Goodridge likens the Asia Tatler group to a club, citing the annual ball that each edition throws for clients and socialites, as well as the private events for automakers like Rolls-Royce and Jaguar that the publications host. The group is enjoying a 25 percent annual rise in revenues across Asia; in five years, Edipresse aims to triple its portfolio of lifestyle magazines. What print media crisis? Clearly, in this genre, growth is not just a luxury, it's a way of life.