Thursday 22 August 2013

Why we don't buy glossy magazines

So people aren’t buying women’s magazines any more?  Or at least, not so much.  In the Telegraph, Jo Fairley called the latest circulation figures a ‘bloodbath’.   She reckons we aren’t buying the glossies because, basically, we can get it all for free on the Internet.  And she has a point.  But really, it’s not just that.

Firstly we’re not buying them because they are stupidly expensive.  £4? £4.20? Oh, get a grip!

But mainly we’re not buying them because they insult our intelligence.  I’ve got one here with Helen Mirren on the cover.  A little pink circle says: “Your special signed subscriber cover” and underneath that, ‘With love from Helen’ (Helen is in handwriting, Mirren’s presumably).  Er, hello.  This is supposed to make us feel warm and snugly?  Helen loves us?  Each and every one of us?  With her printed signature.  Per-lease.  As if that weren’t enough, the only strapline says this: ‘A fresh start.  How to get what you really want.  More money, a healthier body. An extra shot of happiness.’

Dear magazines – we’re not entirely thick.  We know you can’t deliver happiness on a plate.  We are sick of your platitudes, your dumbed down X steps to happiness/career satisfaction/inner peace/the perfect orgasm.  We don’t trust your ‘recommendations’ because we know that they tend to be predicated by who’s paying the advertising bill that month.  We don’t believe your gushing travel features because we know they’ve been written by the intern on a freebie.   Your features are anodyne, with every ounce of originality and interest sucked out.  And yes, we can find better fashion and cookery in the web.  Without paying through the nose.

Plus, in some cases, we’re appalled. Revolted.  I’m looking at another (£4.20), the September issue.  I flick through and reel at the ads.  Actually, there are 126 pages of them before you even get to the first page of editorial.  I mean…who buys this stuff?  Who out there actually buys all the Dolce & Gabbana, the Fendi, the Longines, the Gucci? 

And that first page?

The Object of Desire:  Louis Vuitton Collar.  £820. 

Would any of you snap it up?  Or (I’m flipping through the rest of the mag now) shell out £14K for a watch  or £4,500 for a bangle or ‘about’ £1,020 for a python-skin clutch or…oh, you get the idea. And yes, I know it's about selling us the image, the 'desire for lifestyle' so we hand over twenty quid for a lipstick or whatever but really... 
I kept flipping through that magazine, trying to find something to read, something of interest, something…anything…that might chime a chord.  Now, I know I’m not their target audience (not a shopper, y’know) but still…   It’s not just that it’s a paean to shopping porn, it’s vapid. There is no meat. Nothing of substance.  It’s not even well-designed. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like flicking through the glossies. Or I did.  A good magazine should be a snapshot of the moment.  I don’t endlessly trawl the web. I don't have time to check out all the various specialist sites. Plus I’m not interested enough in fashion or beauty or anything really to linger longingly. But it's quite nice to know what's new.  Plus, I like the feel of paper.  

What I want from a mag is a smart, sassy, informed edit of the best.  I want to read and see the work of specialists with an eye on the ball, a finger on the pulse and…a gut feeling for what’s worth knowing about.  Is there a really good book I should be reading? A cracker of a movie that isn’t a Hollywood  blockbuster that I might miss? Some breakthrough technique that will really make me look ten years younger?  Analysis of some trend or phenomenon – a deeper investigation – (Marie Claire used to do that really well).  And yes, sure, beautiful pics of nice clothes and homes and beaches and food are fine – but they need to be ‘real’ as in vaguely obtainable.  A good magazine should end up filled with turned down corners, with websites and numbers and bits of info ringed round in felt pen. 

Do any of them still provide that?  Red comes the nearest, to my mind (except they ruin it by being disgustingly ageist - what IS it with you magazines that you think that, once we hit 40 all we want is Spanx and cookery tips? But that's another rant).  Anyhow, the rest are pretty much a waste of space. 

Am I being unfair?  


60 going on 16 said...

Great piece, Jane, which echoes the thoughts I've long had about magazines. On reflection, I realise that I haven't actually bought a glossy for years; the nearest I get is flicking through them in the dentist's waiting room . . .and don't think I've ever been tempted to run down to the nearest newsagent afterwards to buy a copy of the magazine I was flicking through.

The content of most, if not all, women's mags (not just the glossies) is predicated on the view that we readers are just not cutting the mustard. We could be so much better if we tried harder; you know, slimmer, fitter, better cooks, better wives, better lovers, better parents, better grandparents, better friends. We could - and should - dress better, look better, be sexier, be smarter, be more successful at work and, hey, here's a magazine that could tell us how to do it. FFS . . .

The other reason I don't read over-priced glossy mags any longer is that almost all of the content and certainly all the ads are irrelevant to me at 65 pushing 66. I haven't lost my marbles; I still read; I'm still interested in what's going on in the world; I still have a social life; I still do yoga; I still work, for heaven's sake. And, yes, sometimes, I like to dress up a bit and to dance and sing. But like many older people, my perspective on the world has shifted; my priorities have changed, and, oh, my income has shrunk (as in plummeted) too and, these days, the only writing I come across that reflects these shifts and changes, especially in older women's lives, is to be found in a number of edgy, well-written and honest blogs. And in books, of course.

(You were spot on about early Marie Claire; their features on women's lives in different, often remote, parts of the world and their campaigns were first class.)

Sorry, very long comment but it was good to have the opportunity to put the thoughts into words!

Anonymous said...

I buy the occasional magazine- but only if it has a freebie on it the worth of which exceeds the four quid the magazine costs. Have had some super Neal's Yard and L'Occitane creams this way. Then I leaf through the magazine for other freebies and vouchers, then the whole lot goes in the recycling, unread.
The writing in most is crap, crass and part of what keeps the consumer machine going and women subjugated.

Meer For Beer said...

Review blogs where they immediately tell you whether the project is a PR freebie or brought by themselves are better in my eyes as magazines tend to have over the top reviews and guessed it, a lot of advertising for the product paid for by the company. Unbiased, I think not.

I generally only read activity magazine such as running or walking ones or maybe the odd copy of New Scientist now unless like above there is a freebie I would use that outstrips the magazine cost.

It is a shame but I feel that a lot of magazine writing has been dumbed down now.

Potty Mummy said...

I don't think you're being unfair at all - you're spot on about Red being closest to the mark, but yes - when are they going to start featuring women over 40 in their ads, stories etc etc? Maybe there's a gap in the market there, Jane?

Rachel Selby said...

I think you've covered all the reasons I no longer buy magazines - and I used to devour them. Price, everything and more on the internet, and the fact that women are just more informed and savvy than we once were. We now all know, because we've spent the past 10 years online, that the meaning or life and how to get it all is just not accessible via print or photography. Good post.

Kim said...

I don't think you're being unfair. I don't buy magazines for exactly those points. I long for a decent one (Inspired Times did quite a good job but had to go online in the end).
Maybe it's time you put a quarterly together, Jane? :-)

Frances said...

Jane, I admit to once upon a time being a big magazine fan. I'm still interested in how the medium has evolved. Glossies might not be the place for deep thoughts...too many handbag-selling advertisers wouldn't want heavy articles surrounding their strange portrait photos of women with handbags.

All the same, since my work does tip toe into fashion land, I do usually subscribe to a major fashion magazine...switching them up as the subscription expires. I want to know what sorts of messages are being sent out the female public.

My favorite magazine continues to be The New Yorker. I've been reading it since the late 1950's (Yes!) and find all sorts of interesting articles and great fiction collected in its pages. And then there are the NYC culture listings and the droll cartoons, too. Somehow, some of those handbag adverts find their way in. They make me smile, along with the cartoons.

Back to the previous post. Silence is fine and very helpful from time to time. However, I think that it's fun and educational communicating with fellow humans. I enjoy being able to meet folks from all over the world every day...not just on the internet.

Am I the only person you know who never had a walkman, and still doesn't have any earphone techy thingy? I listen to what's around me, when I am out and about. Nothing pre-set.


Erica said...

This analysis hits the nail squarely on the head. I haven't bought a non food magazine for years. I find them expensive and empty of anything intelligent - I've resorted to The Observer and occasionally the Saturday Guardian supplements and magazines. These provide in depth articles, the odd recipe and my (guilty?) pleasure is Mariella's agony aunt column which is always thoughtfully written. I just don't need to pay a fortune for nonsense.

Unknown said...

You're so right, Jane. I've had subscriptions for years to women's magazines, but I'm seriously going to stop the habit - it takes about ten minutes to read anything I care about.
I'm enjoying your blog.

Cait O'Connor said...

You have said just what I have been thinking for a long time Jane. I stopped buying Country Living (remember Jane?) and since then have not been tempted to buy any glossy mag. I used to be a great fan of them but no more, for all the reasons you give. There is a gap in the market for what women want, what we really really want..... and at a price we can afford...

janerowena said...

Exactly right! I loved Marie Claire, Eve - which they shut down - and Country Living. I had subscriptions and they took me a good week to read. Then the ad content went up and up and the good reading material went down - actually years ago She magazine used to be excellent, as did Cosmopolitan - then one day they all looked far too alike. I swear they all just copied each other. I stopped everything about four years ago and am far richer as a result.

Pixiemum said...

Oh, I thought it was just me no longer subscribing to Good Housekeeping or Woman and Home, indeed not even buying them. At one time they were aspirational but we had no other way of learning about trends, looks, books etc.

I remember Honey closing, Over21 starting out, Nova too, and eagerly awaiting the next month's issue. When our daughter was in her teens we gave her a subscription to Vogue, the writing and content was of a higher standard than teen magazines.