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« Inside New Urbanism | Main | Graphics [Fads] »

October 21, 2005

Ultra-Slick Magazines (The Covers)

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Just yesterday I casually tossed a magazine on the hassock -- and it kept sliding until it dropped onto the floor. Grrr.

This isn't breaking news because they've been around for a number of years: ultra-shiny, slippery magazine covers.

Super-slick covers were probably introduced because they look bright and inviting on the news rack as compared to those other magazines printed on slightly duller stock. And perhaps the surface might allow finer screening for cover art. (Any thoughts about these points, Michael? Are there other, more important reasons for ultra-slicks?)

Whatever marketing advantages that existed when the first shiny covers were introduced have long since been negated by the fact that most mass-circulation magazines now sport such covers.

All that's left, for me anyway, is the annoyance factor.

The plain truth is, it's very hard to stack slippery magazines and to keep the stack intact.

Another bothersome point for me is that I can't come up with a practical way to fight this evil scourge. The best way should be via the market. But because most magazines have slippery covers, I can't easily switch to a competing magazine with traditional cover stock. Besides, I buy magazines for their content and not how they're packaged. Although slippery covers are annoying, the annoyance isn't enough to prevent me from making the purchase. And presence of a traditional cover is not enough of an incentive for me to buy a magazine with inferior content.

Some things you just gotta live with, I suppose.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at October 21, 2005




Comments

Donald:

My problem is compounded by three factors:

(1) My wife and teenage daughters buy and subscribe to a lot of glossy magazines, many of which end up in the car

(2) My car has leather seats

(3) My driveway is very, very steep in places.

This results in a loud thump virtually every time I go down my driveway as the glossy magazines fall into the passenger footwell. I've actually just come to expect it as part of my sonic environment. As is the grumbling under my breath.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 21, 2005 09:45 AM



In a way, it's odd that magazine publishers go to such lengths to make their magazines look inviting on the newsracks, because IINM the great majority of sales for most magazines comes via subscription. Unless the idea is that a great-looking product will spur more people to subscribe.

Posted by: Peter on October 21, 2005 10:01 AM



I'll try to supply a little historical context ...

Roll your memories back, back ... To the '70s and beyond ... There were "luxe" magazines. Realites was a well-known one. It combined art, high-end consumerism, inside-dope rich people/celebrity stuff, travel, a smattering of intellectuality, gorgeous photography ... A general aura of super-decadent Euro-sophistication.

Man, did Realites make me hot! Er, aside from that ... If memory serves, Realites and mags like it distinguished themselves from more proletarian publications partly with their paper, and their super-heavy, superslick covers. You felt like you were handling an art book more than a magazine, and you felt welcomed into an exclusive club just by virtue of being in the presence of such smooth-and-creamy lusciousness -- kind of the way you felt if you got near a Porsche or a Mercedes, back when those cars had an aura and weren't so commonplace.

OK, fast forward to the '80s ... The Reagan years ... Many people are feeling good about spending and consuming ... Some classes are making a ton of dough ... The hippie years of self-abnegation and simplicity are over ... Sexiness, dynamism, decadence, drive and wealth are all ok again. And Tina Brown is hired to edit Vanity Fair.

I could be wrong -- eager to be corrected -- but it seems to me that Tina Brown is responsible for the introduction to American of the idea of luxe-for-the-masses in magazine terms. Visits to royalty, both Hollywood and inherited ... Etc, etc. Part of the way she -- and her producers, so to speak, Conde Nast -- sold the concept to us was with spectacular production values. Big budgets, famous photographers, chic/tabloid layouts, and shinypaper, and artbook-style glossy-beyond-belief covers.

At the time, that kind of paper and that kind of ink were really expensive -- there were good economic reasons why most publications didn't use 'em. But Conde Nast was behind Tina and Vanity Fair bigtime -- they lost a ton of money on her for years. They were willing to fork over. And so Vanity Fair and its glossy covers just kept on coming and coming and coming (and go ahead and laugh at the sexual pun, it's intended) ...

Anyway, Tina, Conde Nast, and VF helped set the gestalt of an era. Other editors started imitating Tina ... Kids grew up on VF and took that kind of approach (and that degree of ritzy production value) for granted ...

The glossy covers that once convincingly screamed "I'm special" came to be expected, at least of a certain kind of lifestyley-glamor publication. I think the paper itself and the gorgeous printing came down a lot in price too.

Funny, isn't it, how people grow to expect a certain degree of zippiness or luxe? I'm often struck by something similar when I watch five minutes of a TV series. The amount of production design, lighting, and photography that are expended on little-nothing teen series these days is incredible. They're more done-up than most movies used to be.

A consequence seems to be that kids now expect to see their inconsequential little traumas and soap operas gussied up in deluxe threads. Yet they seem to resent it too, and to crave something more ... real, whatever that means. Everything twinkles, ripples, flushes, looms ... If it isn't actively working on you and making you say "Whoa!", then it isn't doing its job.

But it's weird being our advanced age, isn't it? I mean, to us, super-glossy covers still convey "this is a special magazine of decadence and sophistication, like Realities." Yet in reality, superglossy covers these days are packaging throwaway TV-star rags.

I'd rant on a bit about how a part of all this is the way that packaging has taken precedence over content -- has really replaced traditional notions of content -- but that's for another posting ....

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 21, 2005 10:12 AM



A light, quick spritz of hairspray on back and front covers will solve this problem. Or your money back.

Posted by: David R. on October 21, 2005 11:02 AM



Great post! Great commentary! Armed with these bits of info (and hoping other folks don't come by 2 Blowhards often), I'll be able to drone on at the next gathering of friends with magazine esoterica. I will, of course, give credit to you folks, but only at the end of the drone; not sure how many friends will still be in the upright position. Especially if they've been sitting on said mag covers.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 21, 2005 11:03 AM



This International Herald Tribune article is 10 years old, but still holds up:

Clones of Western Magazines Thrive in Asia

By Claire Wilson (Feb 20, 1995)
Paris-based Hachette Filipacchi Publications was among the first Western magazine publishers to go into the Asian market when in 1969 it produced a Japanese version of its slick fashion property, Elle, under license.
.In the two decades that followed, the company launched 10 more magazines in Asia.
.Since 1991, it has added 15 more titles, including an edition of Woman's Day that takes its place on the stands next to Elle this month in China.
."It was important for a large group like Hachette to be there from the beginning," said Didier Guerin, president of Hachette Filipacchi Asia Pacific. "We were the first to have that strategy, but we know we are not going to be alone for long."
.Indeed, Hachette may be a pioneer in China, but in Asia it is hardly alone. Behind the French company is a pack of European and American publishers that are accelerating their push into Asia.
.
This spring, Hearst Corp. will launch Esquire in two more markets and is considering a launch of Harper's Bazaar in Singapore. Groupe Marie Claire, based in Paris, is adding to its eight titles in the region, and the German publisher Gruner & Jahr AG is actively studying the market. New York-based Avenue Magazine Inc., which publishes a version of its luxury magazine in Japan, last year added a Chinese edition.
.Condé Nast Publications Inc. has been slow to extend its reach but eventually will add to its current stable of a Japanese edition of GQ and Vogue in Singapore. "It's not a question of if, but when," said Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International Inc.
.To the uninitiated, this might smack of Western cultural imperialism - but that is not the case. Each magazine is conceived as a local product and produced with local staff either through a joint venture or a licensing agreement with a local publisher.
.Visually, the magazines are clones of the originals. But foreign material makes up only 25 percent to 40 percent of the editorial content. That part is chosen from among articles published worldwide in other editions of the magazines, then translated and adapted to the local culture.
.In some cases, such adaptation means dancing around strict censorship rules governing articles and advertising, particularly where nudity is concerned or with subjects like sex and abortion.
."I once got into a lot of hot water over a Calvin Klein ad," one publisher recalled.
.Partners on both sides say that maintaining a magazine's local identity is critical to its success. "These are not Western magazines, they are Eastern magazines with Western mothers," said George Green, president of Hearst Magazines International in New York, whose Japanese Cosmopolitan sells 300,000 copies monthly. "If it isn't done for the local readership, it will fail."
.But retaining a foreign flavor is also important. French or American origins are one of the main reasons readers buy these magazines, said Kim Young Chull, the chairman of Kaya Media Corp. in Seoul, which publishes Marie Claire. "We still think that whatever is imported is fashionable," he said. "Around here, even Buddhist monks send Christmas cards."
.There were no such slick magazines in Asia before the Western publishers started arriving in the early 1970s. There was an active newspaper culture, but the few magazines on the stands were poorly printed and on low-quality paper. There was no demand for magazines in economies that still had few consumer goods - there was nothing to buy, nothing to show on editorial pages, nothing to advertise.
.The rise in consumerism changed all that, according to Hachette's Mr. Guerin, a Frenchman who relocated to Sydney to direct the company's Asian-Pacific operation.
."The economic growth in these countries has developed readers with an appetite for information, news, entertainment, fashion and beauty - which has created a demand for the same products," he said. "At the same time, advertisers needed a way to reach these consumers."
.Many consumer products come from the West, so readers look to the authority of a Western magazine for their information. That particularly applies to the realm of fashion, but areas like the home are quick to follow suit.
."Ten years ago people weren't even interested in fashion," Mr. Kim said. "Now we want nice houses, nice furniture and nice clothes. Where do we see all that? In the fashion magazines.
."As people become more fashionable, they are looking for examples."
.In markets like South Korea, which has a 98 percent literacy rate, readers also want articles on serious subjects like social issues, the war in Bosnia, AIDS and the homeless, according to Laurence Humbert, executive director of international editions at Marie Claire.
."Women are changing a lot in these countries, and with education comes other aspirations," she said. "They are interested in magazines that give them something beautiful, but they also want interesting reading. We don't hesitate to give them provocative articles."
.Women are by far the largest consumers of magazines in Asia, as in the world, but Asian men are not being left out. Condé Nast's GQ sells 90,000 copies monthly in Japan, and Hearst's Esquire will be available in four markets this spring. Hachette produces a Hong Kong edition of Car & Driver and, through its custom publishing division, a magazine for owners of BMW cars in five countries. In China, it recently launched Bo, a sports magazine targeted at both men and women.
.Fashion-oriented men's magazines, complete with scratch-and-sniff fragrance advertising, are completely new to Asian men, whose reading habits formerly centered around the drier stuff of political, news and sports publications. The appearance of the slick magazines supports the argument that with the whole genre of glossy, upscale titles, Western publishers have brought something to the party that Asians could not produce.
."As good as local publishers are for the low to middle end of the market, they simply don't have the background or the know-how" to publish slick, upscale magazines, said Bernard Leser, the Sydney-based chairman of Condé Nast Asia-Pacific. "We understand the high-quality end of the magazine market the way no one else does."
.Alan Zie Yongder, the founder of Yongder Hall Group and chairman of the Hong Kong Publishers Society, publishes 20 titles, including Marie Claire, Esquire and Penthouse. While rejecting the idea that his operation might not be up to Western standards, he said his partnerships with the Western companies have brought his readers a good product at a low cost to him. Such established brand identities - for readers and advertisers - make the magazines an easy launch that becomes profitable quickly.
."Creating something this well known would normally take 20 years and a lot of money," said Mr. Yongder, who also publishes an 18-year-old local woman's title called Elegance. "This way it only takes a year or two. It's a good deal."
.CLAIRE WILSON is a journalist based in Paris.
Paris-based Hachette Filipacchi Publications was among the first Western magazine publishers to go into the Asian market when in 1969 it produced a Japanese version of its slick fashion property, Elle, under license.
.
In the two decades that followed, the company launched 10 more magazines in Asia.
.
Since 1991, it has added 15 more titles, including an edition of Woman's Day that takes its place on the stands next to Elle this month in China.
.
"It was important for a large group like Hachette to be there from the beginning," said Didier Guerin, president of Hachette Filipacchi Asia Pacific. "We were the first to have that strategy, but we know we are not going to be alone for long."
.
Indeed, Hachette may be a pioneer in China, but in Asia it is hardly alone. Behind the French company is a pack of European and American publishers that are accelerating their push into Asia.
.
.
THIS spring, Hearst Corp. will launch Esquire in two more markets and is considering a launch of Harper's Bazaar in Singapore. Groupe Marie Claire, based in Paris, is adding to its eight titles in the region, and the German publisher Gruner & Jahr AG is actively studying the market. New York-based Avenue Magazine Inc., which publishes a version of its luxury magazine in Japan, last year added a Chinese edition.
.
Conde Nast Publications Inc. has been slow to extend its reach but eventually will add to its current stable of a Japanese edition of GQ and Vogue in Singapore. "It's not a question of if, but when," said Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Conde Nast International Inc.
.
To the uninitiated, this might smack of Western cultural imperialism - but that is not the case. Each magazine is conceived as a local product and produced with local staff either through a joint venture or a licensing agreement with a local publisher.
.
Visually, the magazines are clones of the originals. But foreign material makes up only 25 percent to 40 percent of the editorial content. That part is chosen from among articles published worldwide in other editions of the magazines, then translated and adapted to the local culture.
.
In some cases, such adaptation means dancing around strict censorship rules governing articles and advertising, particularly where nudity is concerned or with subjects like sex and abortion.
.
"I once got into a lot of hot water over a Calvin Klein ad," one publisher recalled.
.
Partners on both sides say that maintaining a magazine's local identity is critical to its success. "These are not Western magazines, they are Eastern magazines with Western mothers," said George Green, president of Hearst Magazines International in New York, whose Japanese Cosmopolitan sells 300,000 copies monthly. "If it isn't done for the local readership, it will fail."
.
But retaining a foreign flavor is also important. French or American origins are one of the main reasons readers buy these magazines, said Kim Young Chull, the chairman of Kaya Media Corp. in Seoul, which publishes Marie Claire. "We still think that whatever is imported is fashionable," he said. "Around here, even Buddhist monks send Christmas cards."
.
There were no such slick magazines in Asia before the Western publishers started arriving in the early 1970s. There was an active newspaper culture, but the few magazines on the stands were poorly printed and on low-quality paper. There was no demand for magazines in economies that still had few consumer goods - there was nothing to buy, nothing to show on editorial pages, nothing to advertise.
.
The rise in consumerism changed all that, according to Hachette's Mr. Guerin, a Frenchman who relocated to Sydney to direct the company's Asian-Pacific operation.
.
"The economic growth in these countries has developed readers with an appetite for information, news, entertainment, fashion and beauty - which has created a demand for the same products," he said. "At the same time, advertisers needed a way to reach these consumers."
.
Many consumer products come from the West, so readers look to the authority of a Western magazine for their information. That particularly applies to the realm of fashion, but areas like the home are quick to follow suit.
.
"Ten years ago people weren't even interested in fashion," Mr. Kim said. "Now we want nice houses, nice furniture and nice clothes. Where do we see all that? In the fashion magazines.
.
"As people become more fashionable, they are looking for examples."
.
In markets like South Korea, which has a 98 percent literacy rate, readers also want articles on serious subjects like social issues, the war in Bosnia, AIDS and the homeless, according to Laurence Humbert, executive director of international editions at Marie Claire.
.
"Women are changing a lot in these countries, and with education comes other aspirations," she said. "They are interested in magazines that give them something beautiful, but they also want interesting reading. We don't hesitate to give them provocative articles."
.
Women are by far the largest consumers of magazines in Asia, as in the world, but Asian men are not being left out. Cond? Nast's GQ sells 90,000 copies monthly in Japan, and Hearst's Esquire will be available in four markets this spring. Hachette produces a Hong Kong edition of Car & Driver and, through its custom publishing division, a magazine for owners of BMW cars in five countries. In China, it recently launched Bo, a sports magazine targeted at both men and women.
.
Fashion-oriented men's magazines, complete with scratch-and-sniff fragrance advertising, are completely new to Asian men, whose reading habits formerly centered around the drier stuff of political, news and sports publications. The appearance of the slick magazines supports the argument that with the whole genre of glossy, upscale titles, Western publishers have brought something to the party that Asians could not produce.
.
"As good as local publishers are for the low to middle end of the market, they simply don't have the background or the know-how" to publish slick, upscale magazines, said Bernard Leser, the Sydney-based chairman of Cond? Nast Asia-Pacific. "We understand the high-quality end of the magazine market the way no one else does."
.
Alan Zie Yongder, the founder of Yongder Hall Group and chairman of the Hong Kong Publishers Society, publishes 20 titles, including Marie Claire, Esquire and Penthouse. While rejecting the idea that his operation might not be up to Western standards, he said his partnerships with the Western companies have brought his readers a good product at a low cost to him. Such established brand identities - for readers and advertisers - make the magazines an easy launch that becomes profitable quickly.
.
"Creating something this well known would normally take 20 years and a lot of money," said Mr. Yongder, who also publishes an 18-year-old local woman's title called Elegance. "This way it only takes a year or two. It's a good deal."
.
CLAIRE WILSON is a journalist based in Paris.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on October 21, 2005 11:58 AM



A magazine I subscribe to recently set a new record when it arrived with 21 advertising card inserts of the bound or blow-in type. I don't know which is worse, the cards you have to tear out or the blow-in cards that fall into your lap.

And how about that new ad format -- a two-page spread, each page of which is folded at the outer edge so you have to open them like window shutters if you want to read the editorial matter inside. What possible benefit does the advertiser get from this compared with a standard deuce? And does the magazine think we like to read four editorial pages side to side once we open the ad? I imagine trying to do that in a New York subway at rush hour might be considered anti-social and possibly grounds for retaliation.

Posted by: Rick Darby on October 21, 2005 12:01 PM



Rather than leaving a trail of ad cards breadcrumbs around the house, our policy at the home is to whisk the magazines from the mailbox to the kitchen counter, where we pluck, like feathers from a chicken, all of the inserts and throw them in the trash. The perfume inserts, we, of course, open and pat them on strategic parts of our bodies. Nothing like the allure of paper scents to drive a reader to passion.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 21, 2005 01:01 PM



IME, most of the slick, high-gloss covers are that way because they are UV coated. While part of the point of this is to give you just the sort of cover you describe, another part of the reason is to reduce the rate of fading. This is particularly important for the sort of dedicated newstands that are hard to find in much of the US anymore. (They tend to expose magazines to direct sunlight much more than, say, a supermarket.)

In addition, the coating helps to reduce water-damage and reduces the amount of ink that rubs off on your hands when you read the magazine.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on October 21, 2005 02:08 PM



Leave aside the slipperyness of mag covers, and content, I waste half my reading time angling magazines this way and that trying dodge the glare off the paper. I've tried dark glasses but as soon as I've emptied them the problem returns.
Cheers...

Posted by: Dark House on October 21, 2005 02:53 PM



I don't mind bind-ins and blow-ins as much as the ridiculous advertising inserts Texas Monthly forces upon us. In October it was 154 pages of Texas Super Lawyers! Like Texas Monthly will be the first thing I think of IF I need a lawyer and IF I happened to keep my old issues and remember which one it was in!

Posted by: beloml on October 21, 2005 03:53 PM



Here's someone's lament that glossy mags are anti-Buddhist:
http://www.darkzen.com/Articles/Modern%20Buddhism_sacred_or_profane.htm

Fortunately for Michael B, "Breathe" yoga magazine still has a matte finish.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on October 21, 2005 09:41 PM



I just put my coffee cups on them so that they get rings on the covers. Does the trick, right nice.

Posted by: MD on October 24, 2005 04:41 PM



A halfway-decent rule about fads seems to be that the moment a fad crests is the exact moment when it also begins to run out of steam.

I think that logically, this would necessarily be true for anything that could possibly crest or run out of steam.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on October 24, 2005 10:56 PM






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