Mags: Sarah Murdoch sans Photoshop

Sarah Murdoch's female approval rating is about to go through the roof: the already girl-crush worthy supermodel, Australia's Next Top Model host, face of Bonds, actress, mum and wife to Lachlan has gone decidedly sans Photoshop for the November cover of The Australian Women's Weekly. And she looks stunning... tiny sunspots, laugh lines and all.

Weekly editor Helen McCabe tells us that despite her determination to go airbrush-free, Sarah, 37, did find it difficult "to look at the few minor imperfections that would have been easily erased by our experts" but that "she decided to take a stand after joining a committee established by federal Youth Minister Kate Ellis to tackle body-image issues among our children."

This vulnerability and humility – a willingness to show us her physical flaws, despite having built a career on her looks – is a gift to women. Sarah's spirit of generosity, which extends from her work with the Breast Cancer Foundation and Murdoch Children's Research Institute through to her new show Sarah Murdoch Hosts the Pride of Australia, is worthy of national recognition – perhaps The Weekly will catapult her to OA status? She's certainly worthy of a Covergirl Of The Year award. Some may cynically suggest that a supermodel without airbrushing is about as novel a concept as giving up chocolate for Lent, but when one's career is based on her looks – and celebrities are filtered down to an inch of their 'real selves' – this is so refreshing.

Sarah has been interviewed for the magazine by author Lee Tulloch, while next month The Weekly will be relaunching with a promising new focus on "more women, from more diverse backgrounds... artists, musicians, authors, scientists, teachers and more who might make interesting reading."

However, don't expect airbrush-free covers to become a standard at The Weekly: "I can't possibly commit to that, I'm a realist," McCabe told AAP. "There are real business imperatives why magazines have gone this way, it's a very competitive industry and I'm at this stage just taking a little baby step and seeing how this goes for now...The one point I have to make is that this is possibly one of, if not the most beautiful woman in Australia that I've done this to, so the risk is not that high."

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS Glossy Vision: Meet Lady Melbourne!

Glossy Vision

As I'm currently either up in the air, being held up at customs, lugging my excess baggage through the arrival hall, or recuperating after a cramped night's non-sleep, it's likely that I won't get to my MacBook in time to bring you Short & Sweet, so instead I'm giving you the next installment of GWAS Glossy Vision.

During the Nuffnang Blog Awards, I took the opportunity to chat to Phoebe Montague of Lady Melbourne who secured herself the Best Fashion Blog award – her equally lovely friend Amelia used my nifty little Flip HD video camera to record the occasion (no, not on the payroll – I love my Flip!).

I'd like to preface the 5-minute clip by saying: a) I sound drunk but am not (just deliriously tired); and b) I am fully aware that I have been shot from a most unflattering angle given my, um, prominent nose. Thankfully, Phoebe is aesthetically captivating and a dream interviewee. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Mags: Crazy covermounting culture

During a Mediaweek podcast earlier this year, Mia Freedman shared an hilarious anecdote illustrating the crazy heights covermounting had risen to during her tenure as editor of Cosmopolitan.

Cooky girl she is, she put on all the freebies she'd collected from British magazines over the period of one week, including a sarong, bikini and thongs, then presented herself to publisher Pat Ingram, who assumed her crazy attire was just another passing fashion trend. Her point being, of course, to demonstrate just how out of control the practise of affixing freebies to the covers of magazines had become. Freedman remains staunchly anti-covermount, as does Cosmopolitan.

"Covermounts are the crack cocaine of magazines," she told Mediaweek. "They're the fastest way to erode your brand. It's an absolutely farcical way to prop up your circulation... so that you can keep your ads up. But you don't know what your readers want; you don't learn anything about what you've put on the cover... it's like, what they want is a hair straightener. Okay, are we a cosmetic company, are we electrical goods manufacturers or are we a publishing house? Covermounts are something I fought against all the time. I hated them."

All this talk yesterday about ACP Magazines getting back to basics with a renewed focus on producing quality, sustainable editorial rather than resorting to artificially boosting quarterly sales figures with tip-on freebies has got me thinking about covermounting culture. Is this a death knell for the one-upping competition that sees newsagents turn into glorified Crazy Clarks stores and editors become sideshow spruikers? And will publishers be able to ween readers off covermounts now they've become a normalised part of the magazine purchasing experience?

In stark contrast to the recession and
eco-friendly mentality pervading the glossies, which tells us to be more thoughtful shoppers in response to the rabid global consumer culture that brought about the GFC, over the past six months I've acquired more than a few bags (tote, beach, duffle, shopping), cosmetics purses, a notebook and pencil, mascara, lipgloss, nail polish, a mini hair straightener, a scarf, a t-shirt, chocolate, a pedometer and sticky notes, all thanks to the generosity of our mainstream women's magazines, including marie claire, Harper's BAZAAR, Madison, Cleo, InStyle, Dolly and Girlfriend.

"You can go into a newsagent and you see who's not selling: every magazine with a covermount isn't selling," Freedman told Mediaweek. "Everyone's addicted to it but, ultimately, it's terrible for the industry and it's terrible for the brands because suddenly nobody wants to buy Dolly unless there's a hair straightener or an iPod... At a time when staff are being laid off and budgets are being cut and editors are doing it so tough... it's insulting to the very talented journalists and people who work on magazines."

Indeed. I've likened magazines who use covermounts to the girl at school who has to buy her friends with gifts, so lacking in confidence is she of her ability to secure a loyal, authentic relationship by just being herself. To my knowledge, Vogue, RUSSH, Frankie and SHOP Til You Drop aren't in the habit of covermounting, yet their circulation figures are relatively healthy.

In the U.K., where covermounting is even more rampant, using tip-ons can lift magazine sales of some women's monthlies by up to 200,000 additional copies an issue. According to Mediaweek, Cosmopolitan registered sales of 647,796 for its July 2009 issue, thanks to a cover price reduction (from £3.30 to £2) and a free chick-lit novel, while average sales for the first half of 2009 were 441,683. The July issue of U.K. Glamour gave away a free mascara, which boosted issue sales to 745,133 copies and average monthly circulation for the first half of 2009 to 526,245.

But not all covermounts are created equal. Tip-ons run the gamut from advertiser product sampling to worthy charity collaborations, sample mags, cheapie branded items from China, and in-house produced one-shot books, magazines and calendars. Over the years, I have enjoyed Vogue's bonus business style magazines and Harper's BAZAAR's L'Oreal Paris sponsored fashion supplements. I also adored Frankie's gift wrap book, containing paper designed by the magazine's arty collaborators, which felt like a real bonus and further extended the magazine's positioning as the quirky creative title du jour. Though these projects mean a lot of extra work for the editorial and design teams – if not the in-house creative services department charged with producing them within the magazine's style guidelines – it's these covermounts that have the ability to enhance a brand and create consumer loyalty – the kind of loyalty advertisers love.

This month's Inside Out magazine comes with a mini 'Decorators' Secret Handbook', which has been lovingly compiled by staff in-house. The book taps into the magazine's little black book of design industry contacts and invites readers to share in the knowledge. The layouts are in keeping with the magazine's style, no sub-editing expense has been spared and there's something new to learn or discover on EVERY page. Freebies like this one, created in a spirit of generosity and excellence, leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling about the magazine – and the covermount sponsor, Yellow Pages.

It is immensely disheartening to slave away on what you believe to be a stellar issue of your magazine only to be trumped at the newsstand by a competitor with an amazing freebie. Because consumers are time-poor and likely to be lured by what seems to be a value-for-money gift, they may be missing out on a truly rewarding magazine reading experience because of the crazy covermounting culture created by publishers.

There's definitely merit in the idea that a freebie might encourage a mag-stand browser to trial a title and return to it the next month because they enjoyed the content. But if magazines are to create the kind of genuine, meaningful relationships they pride themselves on (and sell themselves to advertisers and media buyers on), while staying true to the eco-friendly values they espouse, they need to allocate more time, effort and resources towards marketing themselves from the inside out, creating the kind of intimate, exciting, rewarding reading experiences that draw people to them every month, rather than cheapening themselves with pointless tip-ons. Covermounts need to become the icing-on-the-cake exception rather than the rule. But will mags be prepared to suffer overall circulation drops to correct the topsy-turvy tip-on craziness?

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Mags: Oh, yay, Tina Fey!

Clearly sensing my pessimism over the negativity pervading the glossies right now, U.S. Harper's BAZAAR have thrown me a major bone – Tina Fey for the November cover! Just looking at her makes me smile like a kid on Christmas Day.

But, of course, the pleasure is in the dialogue. People who use Botox, she says, "look like their faces are full of candles -- a shiny, shiny face. Festive. A holiday candle."

And Madonna and Gwyneth's near religious devotion to yoga and exercise? "You will still die. I'll do grave yoga. Someone can come and stretch me in my grave... I like to delude myself that I'm in the old-Hollywood mode. I just tailor my clothes well and try to keep my skin clear. While it would be great to work out an hour a day, there is something inherently sort of selfish about it. I can't do it."

I particularly enjoyed this paragraph from Laura Brown's cover feature:

"30 Rock headquarters forms one third of a triumphant New York nexus, with Gossip Girl's and Sex and the City's offices across the hall. In the reception area is a hodgepodge of Tina's press, including red-carpet moments and magazine covers, pinned up like a proud mom's scrapbook. Today she is wearing an ivory shirt and trousers ("I don't know why I'm in head-to-toe ivory") and new Prada Sport sneakers to put the pep in her step. "Shopping!" she says gleefully. "I've been shopping. I am no longer the least stylish woman in the room."

But you're still the funniest gal in the room, Tina. And I think I'd rather aspire be her (or, as Brown says, stand next to her) than the cranky one in uncomfortable statement heels.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel