The PSFK site, which is run by a bunch of trend spotters scattered around the globe, has a really fascinating blog. In Mass vs. Class Magazine Trend, they identify an interesting trend: a growing dichotomy in the magazine market. “On the one hand [publishers] are hot for controlled-circulation luxury magazines targeted at only the very richest (if you’re not making a half mil a year you probably can’t even buy one). But they’re also obsessed with reaching the Walmart crowd, using low-priced, totally unpretentious magazines aimed at busy moms who probably find the ideas in Martha and Real Simple too darn expensive.” Time’s All You will only be sold at Walmart, while Hachette is competing with For Me, and Hearst is trying with Quick & Simple. “All of which can lead those of us who neither make $500 a year nor ever set foot in a Walmart wonder if there will soon be no magazines left for us.”
HIGH OR LOW – BUT NOTHING IN BETWEEN
The fact is, this dichotomy reflects people’s dramatically divergent behavior – they are either buying really high-end items, or scrimping on bargain basement goods – forcing retailers to cater to this split in demand. Retailers advertise in magazines, effectively forcing magazines and magazine content to follow suit. So it’s really no surprise that magazines reflect this divisiveness in the marketplace.
While fortunes have always been made in the mass market, the interesting question is whether magazines catering to the extremely elite, high-end of the market will continue to flourish. In A Flood of Magazines for Those Awash in Cash [The New York Times, March 7, 2005], Katharine Q. Seelye reports that of the 6,200 magazines published for the general public in the US, 5% (or just over 300) are aimed at the high end of the market. For example, publications like Avenue (ManhattanMedia.com) target only 50,000 New Yorkers who live in upscale buildings on the Upper East Side, paid more than $2 million for their homes, and have registered cars, boats, and planes costing more than $75,000. The publisher of Absolute targets New Yorkers making at least $500,000 annually.
While naysayers keep predicting the death of these fancy new glossies – remember, six out of ten magazines typically fail within their first year – Michael Silverstein of the Boston Consulting Group and co-author of Trading Up: The New American Luxury estimates that within 5 years, American spending on luxury goods will hit $1 trillion. “It’s a phenomenon that’s here to stay.”
FASHION MAGAZINES: RUN BY SOCIALITE KNOW-NOTHINGS?
Within the fashion magazine market, a key fact is this: the content of fashion glossies caters to the über-elite is only reinforced by the people who run them. In a really interesting podcast on PopGoesTheCulture.com, Susie Watson (a former fashion advertising director & industry insider) and Barbara Luhring discuss The Myth of the Fashion Magazine, pointing out that fashion mags are actually run by a clique of socialites & socially well-connected types who are more interested in the free clothing samples they can score from designers. “It’s all about the stuff, it’s not about the culture, it’s not about the art. And there was a great deal of art to fashion at one time,” Watson notes. “It is one of the few professions in which people who work in the profession do not have any kind of a professional background in that profession. What you need to be is a very wealthy socialite’s daughter, or a trust fund kid, or someone with a major New York connection. It is very much a social status job in New York, and it continues to be.” (photo of socialites from Paper Magazine, PaperMag.com)
SOCIALITES THEN VS. NOW: AM I FIRST ROW AT THE FASHION SHOW?
Although fashion magazines have traditionally been finishing schools for socialites, Watson explains that magazines in the 40s and 50s were populated by young women schooled in the arts, culture, and fashion. “Because now these young socialites really are not schooled in culture, neither the arts, nor fashion nor anything else of import, they really don’t have the background to do this job even as much as their predecessors – who were also socialites – had.” Because today’s editors are so lacking in any kind of fashion or arts background, Watson contends that they’ve been transformed into hangers-on. “They have to be very nice to the designers to be sure that they get the right seat at the show, or they won’t get an invite. In the media, it’s very important to be careful how you write about designers because your seat might go back a few rows if you don’t say the right things.”
SOCIALITES + BUYING BEHAVIOR = CONTINUED TREND
So the unfortunate collision of the extremes of purchasing behavior driving advertising, and the fact that apparent know-nothings are at the helm of many mainstream fashion publications whose jobs are mostly internships and vehicles for swag – of which the likelihood of receiving it increases when you talk favorably about it – means that the outlook for magazines catering to middle ground doesn’t look too great.
SOME GOOD ADVICE
So do yourself a favor & keep Susie Watson’s advice in mind when you peruse a glossy publication: “Next time you’re reading a fashion magazine, don’t take it too seriously. The people writing it don’t know that much about fashion."