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Why Fashion Magazines Need More than Nude Photos to Build Readership

Last Updated Apr 19, 2010 6:02 PM EDT

With readers moving to free online content and print ad pages in sharp decline, what's an ailing fashion mag to do to get readers clicking and ad cash rolling? Get naked, of course. Appearing nude are the likes of Kim Kardashian, Kara DioGuardi, Kate Moss and a host of other models and celebrities -- many of which claim to be digitally un-enhanced -- punctuating the pages of fashion magazines from the U.S. to Australia recently. And while the photos are eye-opening, it's unlikely these skin shots can do anything more than provide a temporary lift in traffic.

Ad sales for fashion/lifestyle magazines were in free-fall last year, and in many cases the double-digit declines left publishers scrambling for ad-generated revenue -- albeit online rather than in print. But these magazines -- and the attendant apparel and accessory brands studding their pages -- were slow to come around to digital content and marketing because much of their female readership lingered in print. The brands are catching up, ramping up Web ad spending like Diane von Furstenberg, who went from $0 to $43,000 in 2009.

So in addition to the standard fare of what's hot and what's not, here is a sampling of the latest "skin" treatments.

Despite rumors that Conde Nast would shut Allure down and a nearly 17 percent decrease in ad revenue, the beauty bible is still alive and kicking. With such dismal numbers, it's unclear why the editors felt it necessary to reprise last year's all nude spread with the likes of a lounging Kara DioGuardi (of American Idol's judging table) and Colbie Caillat, among others. The tame and fuzzily romantic images that harken back to 70s era commercials for FDS feminine deodorant are accompanied by a (very brief) Q&A designed to show that celebs too, have insecurities before dropping trou for the camera.

Claudia Schiffer poses topless (with a hint of plumber's crack) for TANK magazine of Germany in a shoot reminiscent of one she did in the early 90s. Ostensibly proving she's an ageless beauty on the eve of her 40th birthday (40 is the new 30?) the mom of two still doesn't need photoshop to look good. Says Schiffer, "I wouldn't think I was ever too old to do something like that. I mean, maybe if I was 60 or 70, then yes, I'd stop doing nude shoots, but then I guess it depends who is asking."

Harper's Bazaar is relatively late to the party, but no less in need of rebounding revenues after a 21 percent loss in 2009. So the venerable style magazine snagged the sexy Kim Kardashian and Joy Bryant as well as photographer Amanda de Cadenet for its show-all. Going a bit further than Marie Claire magazine's much touted May cover showcasing an unretouched Jessica Simpson, this spread features the trio in their unvarnished glory, with nary a photoshop brush in sight.

Showing how perfection comes in different packages was the goal for LOVE Magazine with the roll out of separate covers featuring eight supermodels in full-frontal shots (with the naughty bits taped out). LOVE's editor-in-chief Katie Grand told Vogue, "We did this to show how much they differed physically from one another, which is why we also printed their measurements. The point is that 'perfection' is not fixed, timeless or transcendent. It varies, as the measurements of our cover girls show." A quick look at all eight thumbnails reveals they're all pretty similar (surprise!). But LOVE is taking naked to another level. The first issue featured the Rubenesque singer of The Gossip Beth Ditto holding a bit of pink tulle over her lady parts and currently LOVE's entire Web site is devoted to a film depicting Prada-clad models in various stages of undress.

Here's the naked truth: it's hard to tell how much more traffic the photos are generating for the respective magazines. Stats for Harper's and Allure are blocked from Quantcast's web analytics public data but sites such as the HuffPo have certainly benefited from an uptick in traffic with coverage of Allure's nudes to the tune of over 2,000 tweets and 100+ Facebook shares and over 3,400 for running Kardashian's photo. With those residual numbers publishers would do well to sharpen their long tail strategies for the future. It's now up to magazines to create compelling content to keep readers on the site clicking articles as well as ads.

Image via Flickr user kalumba2009 CC 2.0