Spend Illustrated

The newest fashion magazines are about shopping not reading - and consumers are buying into that.

August 18, 2004|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

For those unfortunate souls who have more money than ideas on how to spend it, help is on the way. A lot of help.

Just hitting the newsstands is SHOP Etc., a new Hearst Corp. magazine that aims to help consumers be "smarter, slicker and more demanding" about buying everything from eyeshadow to poster beds. It joins a growing field of glossy magazines all focused on the same goal of making you the ultimate shopper.

Utterly clueless about the comeback of ponchos and fur vests? What to wear with a classic bomber jacket? Where to find that insanely expensive Gustavian armchair?

So-called "magalogs" - think a cross between magazines and catalogs - are crowding newsstand shelves offering to guide you through the maze of consumerism. This new hybrid of magazines will not only create a new look and lifestyle for you, but also tell you where you should buy it and how much you should spend on it.

"We've become a nation of shopaholics, and these magazines are catering to us," said magazine expert Samir Husni, a professor at the University of Mississippi where he heads the magazine journalism program. "Whether we're buying this stuff or just fantasizing about buying this stuff, it makes us feel good to look at it."

Industry experts say a healthier economy and the accompanying resurgence in advertising has given shopping magazines a boost this year.

Lucky, the Conde Nast magazine about shopping that started it all, recently told advertisers its circulation will hit at least 1 million by January, a rapid climb for a title that was only launched in December 2000. Crossing that threshold would put Lucky in the same league, circulation-wise, of much more established fashion magazines as Allure, Elle and even Vogue, the fashion bible that sells in the 1.3 million range. Lucky's jam-packed pages of clothing, cosmetics and shoes, and its signature stickers labeled "YES!" and "MAYBE?" to mark your favorite products, proved to be a surprising hit with consumers.

Lucky is so successful it won Advertising Age's Magazine of the Year Award last October, an honor that raised more than a few eyebrows among traditionalists who view it as a glorified catalog and an affront to magazine journalism.

"I find the whole concept deplorable," said Martin Walker, a longtime magazine consultant in New York. "It's like they say, you can never go wrong by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

But such denunciations exasperate Kim France, Lucky's editor-in-chief.

"There's this attitude that every time someone picks up a copy of Lucky, an Atlantic Monthly reader is going to drop dead somewhere," France said.

"People think we're killing off `real' magazines. Well, I read traditional magazines, too. Lucky is not meant to replace other magazines. Lucky is its own thing."

Offering an alternative

France says her magazine isn't trying to compete with more traditional ones. It's just presenting an alternative way of offering up the standard women's-magazine diet of fashion trends, designer houses, health tips and dating advice. Lucky merely connects consumers to products and brands with a quick caption and phone number, without the lengthy articles on such topics.

Lucky paved the way for others, kick-starting a whole new genre of magazines.

Steven Cohn, editor-in-chief of Media Industry Newsletter in New York, said, "Personally, I didn't think it would be that successful. If I were a focus group, I would have thought Lucky was a magazine for my dog. But what do I know? With Lucky, the belief was that people really need some help with how to buy things and what to buy. People want to look better. Obviously, there's a demand out there.

"And as you know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Lucky spawned a male sibling, Cargo, which was launched in March and is also produced by Conde Nast. And early next year, the company will launch Domino, a magazine about home furnishings.

The field continues to grow: Coming at the end of this month is Vitals, described as a "men's luxury lifestyle service magazine," by Fairchild Publications, a sister division to Conde Nast.

For those discerning shoppers who have even more money to spend, WLuxe, a shopping insert targeting the fashion conscious elite will appear in Fairchild's W magazine this fall.

Gadget lovers already have their own magazine, too. Ziff Davis Media Inc. debuted Sync this summer for techno-buffs.

"We're going to see more and more iterations of this until it explodes," Walker, the magazine consultant, said. "It's like years ago when teen-age magazines were hot and now they're struggling. It remains to be seen how successful they will be

"We're back in an era of conspicuous consumption," Walker said.

Shopaholics never had it so good. Or is it so bad?

This is shopping as entertainment, or better yet, a lifestyle.

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