Magazines, especially lifestyle magazines, are bullsh.

I Find Karma (
Fri, 18 Jul 1997 19:35:44 -0700 (PDT)

is a cute little article on the media kits provided by lifestyle
magazines who want to sell ad space (thanks for pointing this out to me,
JD). I like the picture at the top of the article, which you'll have to
visit if you want to see. Text follows...

> Apparently, if you just read the magazine, you're not doing it right.
> Magazines are for consumers, not readers. Magazines don't make money
> selling magazines--subscriptions and vendor sales don't even come close
> to covering costs--they make money from selling their audiences, their
> targeted markets.

So this is how I keep getting those free condom samples in the mail...

------------------ 8< snip snip snip 8< -------------------------------

How To Tell If You're a Details Reader

by Carrie McLaren

One of the best things about working for Matador--aside from the great
pay--is that you can do a million jobs at once and do them all
half-assed. Just kidding.

One of my jobs is buying ads in magazines. To "help" me with this task,
magazine salespeople can do any number of things. Bigger mags offer free
lunches and dinners, which isn't too terrible (though I'd rather just
have them give me the money). Or they can offer to drop by for an office
visit (not a realistic option).

Or we could do away with the face-to-face altogether and let the media
kit make the pitch. Magazines of all sizes use some variation of a media
kit. Small ones usually keep it to a page of ad rates while bigger
magazines tend to have bigger--and more complicated--kits. Kits so
complicated that, in fact, I've no idea what most of the stuff means.

All kits, however, share a single purpose: to sell ad space, i.e. to
provide a solid argument for getting my money. The surprising part is
that this generally has nothing to do with the content of the
magazine. I'm not supposed to advertise in Details because it's
well-written, informative, or interesting, but because it reaches and
influences the right audience. Magazine content is sorta beside the
point, a means to an end; the audience is what matters, the audience is
what's for sale.


Just being a reader, you probably don't know it but most magazines are
hip, influential, cutting-edge, and really important to our
generation. Well, that's what the media kits say:

Ray Gun - "the choice of a generation"

Spin -- "the voice of a generation"

Swing -- "the first lifestyle magazine written for, by, and about
people in their twenties, today's most exciting generation."

Film Threat -- "the ONLY movie magazine read by generation X"

Vibe -- "speaks to a whole generation of young men and women whose
lives defy categorizing"

Vibe's readers aren't the only ones who defy categorization. Just about
every mag has their own way of saying "stereotypes are bad," their
readers are all different, unique, etc. The only thing that unites
readers--other than them all being influentials (see below)--is their
devotion to the mag in question.

But then maybe the magazines are joking. This would explain why the
parts about defying categorization are followed by pages and pages of
charts, percentages, and decimal points categorizing their readers. (No
two [LINK] psychographics alike!)

65% of Wig readers call themselves artists

63% of Interview readers say "I have more self-confidence and style
than most people my age"; 92% love to experience new and different
things (the other 8% are unconscious)

98% of Film Threat readers wear hip clothes

Too bad publishers don't make their magazines as interesting as their
math. (If I start reading Film Threat, are my clothes more likely to be
hip?) Granted, I'm no numbers whiz, but publishers' stats seem
impossibly off. The median age of Film Threat readers is given as
twenty-five and the median income as $39,000 (and these are, according
to the media kit, "the people they invented the word slacker
for"?). Meanwhile, Spin readers are buying 7.5 CDs a month
. . . whatever . . .


Apparently, if you just read the magazine, you're not doing it right.
Magazines are for consumers, not readers. Magazines don't make money
selling magazines--subscriptions and vendor sales don't even come close
to covering costs--they make money from selling their audiences, their
targeted markets.

Marketers constantly survey, poll, and interview readers to see how much
they're consuming. Some of this audience research has a secondary
purpose--such as helping the editors "give readers what they
want"--which diverts attention from the issue. Others offer incentives:
answer a few questions, win some prize. Lifestyle magazines such as
Details, Paper, and Wired recruit readers to serve as marketing
consultants, answering questions for the magazine's advertisers in
exchange for free goods and other perks.

Once they've collected the data, magazines compile and transform it into
something that proves how influential they are.

Two main types of influences:

a) influential -- as in, the mag influences its readers to buy things,
much in the same way that a catalog or a promotional newsletter does

b) influentials -- as in the magazine's readers are influentials, i.e.,
tastemakers, fashion-forward, popular people. They set trends and cut
edges. They're the first to try new products and encourage their
friends to do the same. And old MTV trade ad says, "buy this 28-year old
and get all his friends for free." Or as the media kits put it:

Interview - Whether it's the latest unheard-of sound, the next big
fashion statement, or the newest anything, our readers are quick to
enter uncharted territory. Perhaps more importantly, Interview readers
help draw the map for those that follow.

Paper-[Paper has] the ideal "tastemaker" readership based in America's
largest and most cutting edge single city market, New York, as well as
strategic trendsetting markets across the country.

Pulp -"targets hip, fashion conscious, consumption-oriented
demographic. Our readers are diverse, yet share a common bond in
exploring our offered areas of interest."

What I want to know is this: If magazine readers are so influential,
what are they doing filling out marketing surveys? Don't they have
anything better to do? Shouldn't they be out influencing?


Spin - "the bible of cool"

Ray Gun - "the bible of music and style"

Wired - "the bible of the new cyberworld"

P.O.V. - "the bible for the young guy trying to get ahead"

Paper - "a style bible"


You'd think the most likely people to be able to cut through the
b.s. would be my fellow ad buyers. And you'd be wrong. Or maybe
whoever's putting these things together believes we can't read. Media
kits contradict themselves all over the place. Pronouncements like these
are eerily common in media kits:

Ray Gun - "high profile and extremely visible, but decidedly rebellious
and underground."

Maxim - We're "general, yet specific . . . (Our reader) is not
interested in fashion, he's interested in clothes. He's a man who has
arrived, but is still going places."

Spin - "We are cutting-edge, but avoid the hypnotic trap of being

*surface - "a spotlight for today's 'avant-guardians' " and yet
"*surface's cover stories are the superheroes of our media age, icons
like Grace Jones, Nina Hagen and Debbie Harry . . . official slogan:
the subculture is surfacing."

Using imagery to reach these sorts of oppositional contradictions is
practically a clichi in advertising. When you consider that media kits
function as advertisements for magazines, I guess this isn't so
surprising; it's even less so considering how the line between editorial
and advertising is getting pretty impossible to find.


Advertising is content. - Plazma media kit

The down side of passing up lunches and office visits is I don't get to
have the salesrep rep offer editorial coverage. These sorts of deals
aren't in media kits--they're, you know, unethical--but magazine
editorial is for sale along with ad space. I can't even begin to count
to phone chats with reps that rely on the assumption that I should
advertise band X because the mag covered them. Again, it's a consequence
of magazine content being secondary to advertisers.

Not sure I want to go on about this; the blurring of advertising with
editorial could be a book in itself and the genre of promo pubs like
Escandalo! (Slant, Sony Living, etc.) certainly fits in there. There's
no question we're trying to make money, too. But magazines of the more
traditional variety aren't all that different; they operate like
commercial radio when it comes to "creative barter." In exchange for
financial favors, the mag will put an agreed-upon artist on the cover or
whatever. Even semi-legit mags do it. You'd be surprised.

Or then maybe you wouldn't, especially once you consider that more and
more magazines are run by Madison Avenue types. This is something the
media kits ARE up front about: Plazma was founded by former creatives at
Wieden and Kennedy, supposedly one of the hippest ad agencies (they do
Nike); the new men's mag P.O.V. was started by a couple guys from Forbes
"looking for a younger, cooler mag"; and the soft-porn men's "zine"
Hollywood Highball is the brainchild of Steven Grasse, CEO of a
marketing agency that helps companies like R.J. Reynolds, Coca-Cola, and
MTV target generation X. Hollywood Highball's media kit may be the
savviest of all: it's nothing more than one sheet with the ad
rates. Perhaps cos the mag itself is a sort of media kit.

In a few years we'll all think back to the golden days of the early 90s
when the issue of advertiser influence was a matter of censorship:
Rolling Stone canceling something that pisses off Subaru or
whatever. Advertiser money doesn't merely censor content, it dictates
and defines acceptable content in the first place. This is one of the
reasons that music magazines--like other specialty publications--are
transforming into so-called lifestyle mags. It's hard to name a mass
music mag now that DOESN'T regularly feature fashion spreads, trend
reports, and consumer tips (Rolling Stone's guide to cameras, Spin's
guide to makeup for men). Alternative Press (their media kit says to
think of AP as a "guide to better living"), Ray Gun, and Spin do all the
above. It's not as if some Spin editor is actually thinking: "Hey guys,
let's get some scantily clad models, an expensive car and take pictures
of them frolicking with powerbooks in the desert . . . readers love
that!" Features often aren't made for readers to love; they're often
not made to inform or even entertain but to sell gear.

Fortunately, magazines have other ways of making money besides selling
editorial content: "ancillary revenues." These include things like brand
extensions: Spin Radio, The Source clothing line, Plazma fonts, Rolling
Stone Rock and Roll Bowl and New Music Tour, Paper Promotions (a
marketing consultant service), Playboy cigars, etc. Media kits promote
what they call "value-added" deals where, in buying an advertise-ment in
their mag, you get a bonus of some sort. See corporate sponsorship
section for details.


Magazines, particularly lifestyle magazines, are bullshit. That's not to
say they can't be appreciated for what they do offer--an occasional
great article (Paul Keegan's "Cyber Agent Man" in the December Details
andGlasgow Phillips' article on t-shirt logos in the Jan/Feb Might are
recent faves), photos of attractive people, fragrance strips, etc. In
fact, understanding and questioning the way magazines work makes it
possible to appreciate worthwhile content even more.

It is, however, unfortunate that I need to spend a bunch of money
advertising in magazines that sell, whether people actually read those
magazines or not. If I had my way, we'd bypass expensive magazines
altogether. You know, cut out the middleman: Take the several thousands
of dollars it costs for a Pavement ad in Details or whatever and just
pay people to buy the record. I bet we'd receive more return on our
investment that way. But then, what do I know. I'm just the ad person.


Asking him for a certain level of complexity would be like asking a
bison to crap silver dollars.
-- Mr. Cranky