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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

The Latest Fashion Trend Is All About Your Data -- And Your Money

Five days ago, my former favorite magazine Nylon, a young woman's fashion magazine out of NYC, announced that they are ending their print edition, of which I am a subscriber. According to their press release, they will concentrate their (increasingly confused) efforts on their web and social media presence in their new role as "influencers."

You've probably heard about influencers with regard to hipsters on YouTube and Instagram, who leverage their status as high-traffic cool kids to present products provided to them by manufacturers so that other less cool people will buy them.

At this, I have to chuckle. I read Nylon, W, and Bazaar regularly but I've never bought a thing from their pages with the exception of a pair of black suede Vans that I bought BEFORE the ad came out. Otherwise, I get my clothes at Label Shopper and the outlets, or I make them myself. I enjoy knowing about style, fashion, au courant page layouts, and popular culture in general, but the idea that I'll ever be buying chocolate diamonds or Tiffany swag is ludicrous to contemplate.

Today, just days after the Nylon announcement, I read a new story, this time about Hearst Magazines (owner of Cosmo, Elle, and others) which is reinventing itself as a data merchant. They too are all about online. One exec proclaimed that they could get more eyeballs in one hour doing a social media plug than they could with a single print issue of Seventeen. Sad. Clearly the print magazine is dead. It's all about data now. If it isn't interactive, meaning Internet-based and trackable, it's as good as worthless to large publishers. 

Of course, I exaggerate. The magazine is as dead as the MP3, which is alive and almost kicking despite being declared dead both metaphorically and now legally (its patent has expired) for years. My prediction is that magazines as we know them will almost die over the next few years, and then they will be resurrected by people who actually love magazines, not just money.

There is a downside to all this marketing, of course. Fashion director Lucinda Chambers, recently fired from British Vogue as a result of the sort of house-cleaning that goes on when a new editor takes the helm, made this clear in an unusually frank interview with a fashion industry-trade publication. She said that fashion magazines did nothing but sell crap that no one needs -- expensive, impractical, glittery crap. Apparently, this is what it means to be an influencer. "In fashion we are always trying to make people buy something they don't need. We don't need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continued buying," Chambers said.

Before I close, I'd like to point out that I know that magazines have always collected what data they could on people and sold it in a hot minute, but aside from knowing that I was likely a woman and that I had an interest in, let's say fashion, there wasn't much more they could tell these advertisers. Today, they can sell my data to bigger data aggregators, who can combine their data on me with all the other data gleaned from my 20+ years of Internet connectivity, and then use that data to sell me stuff, among other things. Add to this Internet-only magazines with e-commerce built in, and you've got a much more powerful engine to extract from readers their inner workings and their deepest hopes and dreams, not to mention their money. Or at least, that's how the theory goes.

I have just one thing to say to that: magazines cease to be fun under these circumstances. I love my color glossies, but there is a point at which they're no longer worth the price, no matter how deep the discount on the subscription postcard.


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rise and fall

Specialty magazines might be the survivors in print. I'm thinking of the really niche zines, such as MAKE or Model Railroader. The subscription price is much higher than their fashion counterparts (the fashion zines benefit from big advertisers paying most of the way) and circulation is much more limited but the content is specific, useful, on topic, etc. Their editors know their readers.

I'd add to your prediction of a decline of the big print zines with a thought that maybe this will be a new, golden era for smaller publications. Anyone that can put out a regular, printed collection of expertise in some area with the support of the readers should be able to eek out a living (Old Farmers Almanac).

Sort of like the way record labels don't really sign artistic bands (Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles) any more (Taylor, Nikki, Katy!), but they exist on their own outside of that system (Glass Animals).


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