GWAS Notes: Why I fell out of glossy love

When avid glossy consumer Alison Kennedy (pictured: she reminds me a little of Maggie Alderson with her dimples and all) emailed me last week, we got to chatting about glossies (naturally).

She listed off a ream of her preferred titles (Paris Vogue; Dumbo Feather, Pass It On; The Monthly; Monocle; Frankie; Vanity Fair) before lamenting that some of her former glossy loves – U.S. Vogue, Vogue Australia, marie claire and madison – no longer cut the magazine mustard. I asked her why. So she wrote this...

Glossy magazines: why we are no longer friends

I have a guilty secret. I love magazines. The glossier the better. Extreme unwearable fashion: yes! Quirky accessories: bring it on! General air of fabulousness: yes, yes, yes! Yet something has happened over the last six months to curb my magazine enthusiasm. My friends and I have stopped buying all but a few glossies. And not for fiscal reasons. This is why:

1. The amount of blatant advertising. Magazine consumers are not stupid. We see the seepage of advertising into editorial, comment, puff pieces and profiles with great cynicism. We are savvy to product placement. We have noticed. Oh, yes, we have. And we don’t like it.

2. The narrowness of the viewpoint. In short, you are nepotistic and self-absorbed. We generally see fashion insiders and media people in the social pages; and advertisers, retailers and PR people in the features. It is rare to see women who have style, intelligence and great clothes who happen to work outside these areas. Sometimes they wander in, but generally as a one-off profile. And generally they are wearing advertisers’ clothes.

3. The mag customer has changed. We are really savvy... Customers who pay a premium for an item in any area expect differentiation. Yet some of our glossies rely on recycled articles and images readily seen online or in imported glossies available on the same newsstand.

We can cope with a rich element of fantasy in editorial, just don’t try to sell us some new beauty product we know won’t work. We also may no longer aspire to buy items priced in the vicinity of four figures. In fact, this now looks hopelessly naff and smacks of insecurity.

4. The medium has changed. Competition is fierce. Our newsagents are saturated with international and local glossies. And the internet is great! It has inspiring images and text and importantly offers independent and thought provoking points of view. And it offers this all quickly. Blogs such as this one cherry pick the most interesting and au courant elements for us – the magazine customer. Inspiring, fabulous images are coming from the street. There is an interest in diversity and self expression and some glossy magazines can appear outdated – at the very least as a result of lagging publication lead times.

So what's a glossy mag to do?

We still love you. Women will be reluctant to leave behind the luxurious, escapist bubble that you create for us to live in, even momentarily.

Yet something is not working. We need more independent voices and images. Less tokenism. Less reliance on international sources. More idiosyncratic content. Less thinly disguised advertising. More inspirational personal style. And, most of all, we need authenticity.

Yours truly,
Alison/Girl With a Satchel


mag nation said...

"More independent voices" - this is what we are trying to provide you with. When the average newsagent stocks 600 titles, they are bound to be the mainstream ones. With over 4,000 titles, mag nation is trying to highlight many of the independent niche titles that reach Alison's bar.

Alison, don't fall out of love. Find new mags to fall in love with. They are springing up faster than ever before, and many of these new entrants feel as you do and are genuinely trying to change the magazine world. We just need to find ways to overcome the distribution challenges that present themselves due to these mags being small.

Keep the faith Alison. If people like you leave glossies behind, we will die a slow and painful death. There are mags with real authenticity that may not make it onto your average newsstand. Spend an afternoon with us, and hopefully we can show you a bunch.

Anonymous said...

What a well written piece. Thank you Alison and Erica, I feel much the same way.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

i agree with the above but still buy glossies, but i am very exacting and won't buy anything just for its name etc, ie aussie Vogue, it's just not good enough sometimes, but sometimes its great! but this month and last month were just..???

I buy Russh nearly every issue, some french or italian vogues for a treat if they are tres special.

I bought the recent two Italian vogues with a middle eastern theme because they were inspiring and beautiful and I also buy ID magazine and now I'm hooked on NO magazine.I also get yen or frankie on occasion, they have some great writing and pick vice up for free!

I wanted to buy Love magazine but it was just too expensive for me to buy, so I just flicked through it in the shop. I also buy an odd little magazine called Amelia's magazine whenever i see it!

Rochelle said...

THANK YOU FOR PUBLISHING THIS! I think it so perfectly articulates the general consensus among us former mainstream mag junkies.

We are bored, we are sick of being spoken down to, and we are able to source better material online very easily.

I second mag nation's view that it is largely a matter of putting down the old faithfuls and digging out different titles that speak to you. I am currently in love with UK magazine Psychologies; it's a breath of fresh air and so suited to the world we live in right now.

Lisa said...

Totally, totally agree with Alison's points about recycled content from overseas mags... the only mags I buy each month now are UK Glamour and Company (UK), because although they're not the most innovative mags around at least I'm getting a heads up on what's going to be in the Australian glossies a couple of months down the track.

It's not so much the articles that are reproduced verbatim that I'm bothered by (because the original writer/source is usually credited), it's the article ideas that are blatantly ripped off and disguised with an "Aussie" angle. Come on guys, come up with your own stuff! We know you can do it!

freestyler said...

Wow, such a great article!! Thanks for posting!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your article. I have recently discovered FALLEN magazine, a Melbourne-local magazine (not Sydney – yay!); inspirational because it is independently produced, the content and layout is fresh and advertising is not prioritised over copy - plus it looks beautiful.
I found it in a pokey suburban newsagent. Following magnation's post - I encourage you to get them on board – it is important that these publications are given a platform as well known as yours so that a broad audience may be exposed to new “independent voices.”

Anonymous said...

What Alison says about seeing the same types of women in glossy mags is so true... if I see Zoe Foster in one more of her mates' glossies, I may have to hurl! (No offence to Zoe - I think she's cool - but come on!)

Australian Online Bookshop said...

I also agree with the comments about recycled content. What i look for is new and fresh content that I have an interest in. Fallen is doing it for me as well at the moment.

dera said...

Well said. I agree completely.

It's this mentality of treating readers like one great homogenous lump, rather than a fabulously diverse group of readers with eclectic styles and desires and aspirations.

Monocle is a seriously great mag, a great read and well worth the cover price. It actually lasts a whole month of reading.

Queen Opti said...

AMEN Alison! Thanks Erica for publishing that, well written entry from Alison.

And (Shahil's?) Mag Nation is correct.
Don't lose faith just yet.

BTW I love Mag Nation in Melbourne! Great work... (sorry Erica to write this here, but you agree riiight??)

But the question is, the original, independent quirky mags we all want to buy, always costs a fortune...What to do, what to do? Well we do still have Frankie then. It's affordable and it's great content.

jess said...

Continuing on from Kitty's point, Erica said at the Sydney Writers' Festival that magazines are very insular, which is so true. I know it's probably a way to reward interns, advertisers etc. (and as an intern I know I would also relish the opportunity to be featured in a magazine), or perhaps editors can't be bothered looking for people so they ask around for friends (or friends of friends), but it would be nice to wider range of people represented in our mags.

CA said...


Betty said...

I'm reading a Margaret Atwood book at the moment and this passage seemed appropriate.
"You bombard them with images of what they ought to be, and you make them feel grotty for being the way they are. You're working with the gap between reality and perception. Nothing sells like anxiety."
(Margaret Atwood, 'Wilderness Tips')

Ondo Lady said...

Great post, I really like the slant you took. Yes magazines are really suffering right not just because of the recessiom but because there are many great websites and blogs nipping at their heels. Also mag readers are getting more particular about the publications they buy. What I find interesting is that while some mags fear blogs they also read them regularly for ideas.

Lizzie said...

I gave up my Self Magazine subscription for this same reason. A lot of it was the same every month and nothing I couldn't have either figured out myself or found online. On the flipside of that, not renewing my subscription didn't mean I started using their web-site. Too 'busy' and cluttered. Mags might need to get on an eye to eye level with their readers - after all (apart from loving to write and produce mags) isn't that what the aim of publishing is?

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty much on the same page, except the front page of the latest Aus Vogue. They have Romance was Born featured on the title, unless Luke and Anna have a secret benefactor, editorial weren't paid for it.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

I LOVE that Margaret Atwood quote! Pretty much sums it up. But magazines have always served as manuals for helping us achieve that elusive concept of perfection: filling the great divide between 'us' and 'them'. Have we evolved pass this? Has the Zeitgeist truly shifted? Or is it just the more avid media consumers who are disenchanted? I hope this evolution in print brings to fruition a rethinking of editorial values, more creativity and greater reader interaction. Surely this is what advertisers want, too? Unfortunately, many mag editors and publishers are running scared all the way to Mediocrity Town, cheapening content in the hope that the masses will eat it up. It would take a great leap of faith for some to push the boundaries.

Anonymous said...

"We still love you. Women will be reluctant to leave behind the luxurious, escapist bubble that you create for us to live in, even momentarily."

Translation: women are stupid.

Joselle said...

Alison, you've hit the nail on the head as to why my longstanding love affair with magazines has recently hit a snag.

Erica, as you said in your comment, reader interaction is HUGE. I often read your blog or Jezebel and think, "I wish this were a magazine I could hold," because it feels like a real conversation with smart, passionate, creative people who aren't afraid to take a stance. That's what so many of the glossies are missing.

marian said...

Firstly thank you great post - I am increasingly drawn to this site for the fresh authenticity you are saying you are missing in magazines.

I love magazines I have been buying them with all the change I could scrape up since I was a child. I was on staff on a magazine as a child!! so after 25 years in the industry I completely share your perspective.
I buy magazines a lot, and I do love the independents!

I love magazines so much I publish and own one called KAREN.

We have a passion that our readers get and for us it is also about the quality of the content as well as the format with lush paper.
We struggle to get the support that the mainstream titles do, and without passionate readers we are non existent.

We are so proud to be working with the likes of Mag Nation who champion us. and the seven countries to whom we distribute.
as well as the handful of incredible advertisers who allow us to be here.

Have a look past the glossies at the front of the stand - there are some great people who also do not like what is happening in mainstream mags doing their own.

Great that this conversation is happening, us independents have been feeling it for some time. Viva the revolution !

SheilaK said...

Good, so everyone agrees – now how do we get the editors to listen and try something new? Karen is a gorgeous magazine, Marian, congratulations. I would like to see it a little thicker, but we have to speak to the advertisers about that, don't we!?

Rochelle said...

"Unfortunately, many mag editors and publishers are running scared all the way to Mediocrity Town, cheapening content in the hope that the masses will eat it up."

Erica, this is so true and I see it happening to so many magazines. I guess it's an easy move to make, but as circulation figures continue to shrink for the mainstream glossies, surely eds should be taking it as a cue that we need a change (you can't blame the economy for everything!).

But what will it take? How long will the glossy bosses continue to peddle the same old crap because they're afraid of what might happen if they change tack? Please, somebody try something different!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I'm loving the independent voices and am so inspired I've started to create a new little zine with fellow-creatives to give us a pick-me-up without the lack of meaning and a huge price tag!!

plus I love DumboFeather, 0f course ;)

thea of Spoonful(TM) Mag.