Politics & Policy

I Am Woman, See Me Shop

A new generation of magazines sells rather than tells.

It’s nearly September, the time of year when new women’s magazines pop up like mushrooms on rain-soaked lawns. Time Inc. is launching two; one of them, called All You, is to be distributed only in Wal-Mart. This no-nonsense title, priced at a cut-rate $1.47, is supposed to be filled with attainable ideas for the practical Wal-Mart shopper: “Get great hair–today!” and “Find Jeans That Fit!,” its busy cover proclaims. Hmmm, if only it were so.

Time, is also launching, out of its Southern Progress division, Cottage Living, which is heavy on home decorating but positioned as a “women’s lifestyle” magazine. Its tagline is “Comfort, Simplicity, Style” and it is, the magazine’s Birmingham-based editor proudly told me, “the second-biggest launch in Time Inc.’s history”–which means its 296 pages will include over 142 pages of ads.

But the publication that so far has received the most buzz is Hearst’s Shop Etc., which hits newsstands this week. In its launch issue, Shop Etc. has a respectable 97 pages of ads, but forget about counting traditional advertising. That’s because the magazine tells you exactly what to buy, where to buy it, why you should buy it, and how much it costs on every one of its editorial pages. It’s “one-stop shopping for fashion, beauty, and home,” the editor, Mandi Norwood, tells readers in her editor’s letter. She exults, “After four years, we’ve fallen in love with shopping again.”

The magazine’s launch party at Chelsea’s uber-trendy Milk Studio was, appropriately, a non-stop shop-a-thon, with big pink shopping bags handed out to all guests. They were encouraged to fill ‘em up with J. Crew leopard tops, Pier One rattan baskets, Origins Ginger Souffle, and lots more. “It’s all free!” exclaimed Joan Rivers, one of the guests, not holding back as she loaded up on the bootie.

Magazines that promote shopping till you drop have become a burgeoning category since the launch of Conde Nast’s Lucky in 2000. Lucky, more like a catalogue than a traditional magazine, now has a circulation of over a million. Sandy Golinkin, Lucky’s publisher, says the magazine was a tough sell to advertisers at first because they demanded to know when articles would appear in the pages. “I thought, ‘Oh, my, they don’t get the concept.’” Silly old things. But they caught on fast. What did it really matter if there were no articles and readers couldn’t tell the difference between editorial and advertising? Though editors claim they shudder at the thought–and ASME (the American Society of Magazine Editors) still gets all huffy when editorial and advertising are easily confused–maybe readers really don’t care. Ad pages for Lucky were up a robust 46 percent last year. And ASME is reevaluating its guidelines.

Guys aren’t being neglected. Now there is a men’s shopping magazine called Cargo, published by Fairchild, that recently hit the newsstands; and Conde Nast is planning yet another shopping magazine focused on the home called Domino, which will launch later this year. Forget Jennifer and Brad, or even Ashley and Mary-Kate, no matter what her problems: According to Norwood, “Product is the new celebrity.”

But what may be most significant about Lucky, Shop Etc, and all mag-a-logs is what is implied on every page: that shopping is, in and of itself, so very good for you. In fact, Norwood tells her readers right up front that “shopping is fun, relaxing, cathartic, exhilarating. It’s a workout, a social event, a way of cheering ourselves up.” The only piece in Shop Etc.’s launch issue that is much longer than a caption is a first-person account of a divorcee who heals her broken heart with some high-priced indulgences. Yes, he left her for another woman, but she bought herself a terrific Armani suit. After all, what does it matter how bad you feel, when you know you can look mahvelous?

Part of what has helped turn shopping into retail therapy is the change in the way women view themselves. For the past decade, nudged along by the media, feminism has morphed into a kind of self-indulgent narcissism. Now women are often told to buy things, not because they need them or even want them, but because they deserve them. Shopping, they are told, is the perfect way of showing their independence, developing their self-esteem, rewarding themselves because they’re worth it, right?

And all this focus on fashion items and beauty products seems to have very little to do with attracting men. Oddly enough, there are virtually no pictures of women and men together in Shop Etc. and no men at all, except for a couple of grinning designers. Remember, Carrie and Miranda in Sex in the City, who perfectly embodied the “I Am Woman, See Me Shop” mantra, prowled boutiques and came home with their Pradas after they were dumped by a guy–not when they were trying to look good for him.

Will magazines ever go back to simply telling readers things instead of selling them things? It seems unlikely. Atoosa Rubinstein, the new editor of Seventeen, the magazine for teenage girls, now puts thumbnail pictures of storefronts next to pictures of that retailer’s products. She says she does it as a service to her young readers. Well, it certainly is a big hit with the advertisers. Seventeen’s publisher declared: “They love the fact she’s driving the kids to purchase.”

Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.

Myrna BlythMyrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...


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