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THE MAGAZINE MEDIC
Playboy: This One’s Showing Its Age
BY CABLE NEUHAUS

A H O L I S T I C A P P R O A C H T O H E A LT H I E R M A G A Z I N E S

THE PATIENT

Playboy AGE 68 VITALS Faltering PROGNOSIS Will never thrive again

The patient has lived long and famously well, has consequently experienced much public contempt, and yet has been intermittently imitated by a raft of jealous competitors. This is a magazine that comes before us exhibiting many signs of age-related trauma. Whether or not Playboy— once the undisputed king of the men’s hound-dog category—can

JAN OP DE BEECK ARTIZANS

be fully revived is open to question. The magazine is breathing hard, has an irregular pulse and evidences an uncomfortable degree of rigidity. Among its horny readership, these signs together might be taken as evidence of editorial fulfillment. But from the POV of the book itself, we must conclude these symptoms point to a flaccid future. Will the mighty libertine monthly that helped define a bygone era now lapse into a stasis, and gradually pass from the scene? Some cynical observers would argue that, metaphorically speaking, it already has. But a close examination reveals there is life in the old ’boy yet. We see a magazine that is thinner and tinnier than it once was, thanks to advertisers that have abandoned men’s and laddie magazines across the board. In part, this is due to weakened newsstand penetration, where Playboy is particularly vulnerable. The big retailers (all right, let’s just say Wal-Mart) won’t stock Playboy, and that’s been a real problem— not a mortal blow, but a gaping wound. Most of the mag’s readers are subscribers, who are hard to attract and expensive to retain. Many, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, are leaving. Between December 2005 and the end of 2007, Playboy lost 381,000 subs. Our professional judgment on the magnitude of that figure: Huge! Much blood has been spilled.

In 2008 America, where unclad women can be ogled not only in scores of glossies, but likewise at most movie houses, on byway billboards, and honestly, at the neighborhood swim club, why Playboy at all? Sure, we’ve heard it argued that this magazine boasts a history of publishing important nonfiction and big-name fiction; that its “Playboy Forum” section helps keep First Amendment issues on the front burner; that its iconic “Interview” reveals the innermost thoughts of cultural play-makers. But not for a moment do we believe the magazine isn’t basically about over-boosted boobs and expertly lit female genitalia. Playboy still has the power to lure young women to step naked before its cameras. Its photos of said subjects are better, at least technically, than anyone else’s. Plus, that paper, those inks! For all its lack of editorial daring, its tired cartoon panels, its out-of-tune party jokes, and its pro forma mini-reviews of games and gear, Playboy still gets guys to pay, month after month, to see shapely women drop their thongs. In the publishing world, that counts for something.

Prescription

How to reinvigorate a book that’s lost legions of readers and advertisers, not to mention its formerly brave heart? We’ve no choice but to begin with the pajama-clad 800-pound gorilla, Playboy’s founder and editor/ charmer-in-chief: Hef.

FPO MAGAZINE • SUMMER 2008

Hugh Hefner is an acknowledged magazine-industry legend. At age 82, he still makes the final calls on each issue of the book he created. He prods his staff, is receptive—at least in theory—to fresh ideas, and recently signed off on a comprehensive re-think expected to result in a number of changes in the magazine before year-end. The problem is that The Man, as he’s reverentially called in the magazine, remains a defiantly hands-on editor. Have you seen the syndicated reality-TV series “The Girls Next Door,” which follows a leering Hef and his girlfriends around the L.A. mansion and parties beyond? If Hef is supposed to be the embodiment of the modern American playboy—and obviously he is, as the magazine devotes plenty of space to an ongoing pictorial labeled “Hangin’ with Hef ”—then here we encounter a quite thorny dilemma. Hef may be venerated by lots of 18–34-year-old guys, but would you bet your storied franchise on an octogenarian who schleps around the country with a handful of “Bunnies?” We’d throttle back on promoting Hugh Hefner—if that’s even possible in a Hef-run operation. Keep him in the background, public image-wise, as a sort of corporate talisman. Next, try to return Playboy to the class act it once was, before Maxim and FHM—even GQ, Esquire and Details—began to intrude on its turf. Its covers are

siX decades of seX

Playboy from ’58 through ’08 shows a consistency in approach and design that doesn’t reflect changes in media or mores.

prognosis

uninspired, predictably lame, and worse, sometimes just plain embarrassing. Why not move the mag in the direction of genuine print art? We’d advise a redesign that’s spare, clean, highly typographic (counter-intuitive? absolutely), and blatantly self-involved. Pre-war art deco for January? Why not. An emphasis on postminimalism for February? Go for it. A Fifties pastel palette for March? Sure thing. Let’s see the art front and center, elevating the magazine within its competitive set. Now, about the nudity. Remove it? What, are you crazy! Not a chance. That stays, as do the “Interview” and the “Girls of the Big 10” and the gritty crime stories. We must venture into this redo with surgical precision: Much of what’s made Playboy a national institution should barely be touched; everything else—the junk that’s more recently gathered in the trunk—goes away. In its place, we ought to see meaty reviews of films and other pop-cult offerings, smart analyses of high-tech trends, lit-quality profiles, maybe a column by Keith Olbermann on whatever is bothering Keith. And lots of art, including stories about art.

Playboy magazine is now part of a large and diverse media company with significant holdings in cable TV and the Internet. Those parts of the enterprise are growing. Why, then, bother producing the old-tech print product that fewer and fewer people are buying? Because the brand is embodied in the slick pages of the familiar magazine. Even with all these changes, it’s a virtual certainty that Playboy will continue to slip for a while before its circ levels off. But this magazine, once so much a part of the American Idea, is hurting, and serious intervention is needed, or, truly, expiry is not out of the question somewhere down the road.

medic’s advice

We’d say be gentle but bold in administering help. One imagines real-life playboys as vigorous and dashing. That’s not true of the magazine, not anymore. It’s actually quite fragile; wrongheaded help could do harm. Instead, we’d advise Playboy’s curators to do the following: Bear in mind that women are at least as intellectually engaging as men, bring the cartoons into the 21st century, play to Hefner’s artistic instincts, continue to showcase all those buffed/bronzed/buffoonish nudes—and be absolutely sure to openly embrace the retroridiculousness of it all.
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A H O l I S t I c A P P R O A c H t O H E A lt H I E R M A G A Z I N E S

THE MAGAZINE MEDIC
Consumer Reports tested by time
cABlE NEUHAUS

The PaTienT

Consumer Reports age 71 ViTals Strong, but at risk Prognosis A lengthy slide into obscurity

Observable Condition

The patient presents a complex challenge. This is a mature magazine with next to no direct competition, a reputation for integrity that is the envy of the industry, and circulation that’s healthy and growing. Virtually alone among major-league magazines, it does not rely on advertising for its survival and is thus somewhat insulated from economic cycles. In sum, it has seemingly every reason to look forward to a long, robust life. Yet, serious problems fester deep within Consumer Reports. It is in trouble: The magazine, in its print form, is increasingly unnecessary. It’s also grossly unattractive, haphazardly organized, boring, predictable, joyless and utterly without a sense of selfawareness. What’s more, it lacks a distinctive voice; its prose has the sparkle of a monthly bank statement. Normally, all these failings in a single book would spell death before daybreak, but Consumer Reports is not about to expire. It’s built up too great a reserve of well-earned goodwill. Rather, like many big, apparently indestructible titles before it, it is poised to begin a long, miserable slide into obsolescence if it does not soon begin to deal with its ailments. Need I mention Reader’s Digest and TV Guide, two once-grand magazine brands that are now but bony remnants of their former selves? Remember them? Their

power, their glory, their sway across the American landscape? Both magazines are at the back end of their venerable life cycles. Like all of us, they made a noise, they grew older, their relevance began to fade through little fault of their own—and now they are gray and feeble in the new age of the Internet. Most any magazine publisher would be giddy to have CR’s numbers, not to mention its lack of effective challengers. But that near-total ownership of the product-testing space still doesn’t get CR’s editors off the hook. In other words, just because readers love you doesn’t mean you are lovable. Later this year, the book will unveil a redesign intended to improve its standing with readers. Consumers Union, which operates the magazine, is ready—finally and belatedly—to confront the book’s mortality. Here’s what they should do.

Prescription

Consumer Reports desperately needs a wholesale makeover, not merely a freshening. Now that the recently redesigned website (ConsumerReports.org) is a model of cleanliness and organization, the print magazine must be dragged into the 21st century as well. No element can go unchanged, not a single one. Begin with the logo, with its silly red-button “o.” The thing is, if your magazine looks and reads as if it was produced in the mid-seventies, you’ll discover

that your audience’s mean age is just about in the mid-seventies, too. Not good. Therefore, let’s get…current. Observers might argue that CR is one magazine that actually ought to cling to a certain stodginess—that part of its credibility, and consequently its success, grows out of its determinedly old-school, “we’re-not-part-ofthat-swinger-crowd” sensibility. I don’t buy that. As part of the magazine’s top-to-bottom stock-taking, the editors must ask themselves some pointed questions: “What can we do that our big website cannot? Where do we fit into the franchise’s overall mission? What personality should the magazine assume?” And finally, yes, “What’s the purpose of our life?” Self-analysis can be a bitch. If done right, it will hurt. But there’s no better time to look deep inside than when your magazine’s health is generally still vibrant. Make those important, life-changing decisions with a clear head.

Prognosis

Consumer Reports is a powerful franchise, but one that almost certainly will evolve into an Internet-only product with secondary print extensions and spin-offs. In the meantime, the role of the magazine’s managers is to deliver to its four-millionplus subscribers a better product. For sheer volume and breadth of detail, it cannot compete with ConsumerReports.org, so

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FONT FOUNT
All in the Family
Complete font families simplify creating a unified type treatment
why even try? As a companion product, however—and for as long as an older demo shows it’s willing to pay for the printed magazine—sure, keep it going. Here’s the deal: The Website should provide a kazillion lines of information and data, while the magazine should offer context and explanation, background and depth. In other words, something to actually read. Until now CR has exhibited virtually no personality at all. This, then, would be the time to inject some voice, preferably a pleasantly authoritative one, into the print edition. Looking down the road, the title’s best bet lies in specials and annuals. Its car-ratings issues, for instance, are juggernauts. Not surprisingly, other publishers have begun to move into that space. CR should own it unequivocally.
CHOOSING DISTINCTIVE FONT COMBINATIONS is one of the favorite pastimes of publication designers. Often, however, di erent font families require a lot of massaging to make them play well together. A serif font may be very wide or have a large x-height compared to the sans family chosen as an accompaniment. A font family may have an assortment of weights that work poorly against the type weights of another family. One approach to solving these problems is to develop universal families that comprise multiple weights of serif and sans fonts that are perfectly matched to be used interchangeably, maintaining a consistent grey color, compatible metrics and a unified aesthetic. From the mid-’80s until the early ’90s, fonts such as Stone, O cina, Rotis and Compatil were released as integrated typographic systems that could be used as a complete solution for a company’s graphic standards. Desktop publishing, with its facility for WYSIWYG mix-and-match font manipulation, eliminated the necessity for integrated families. But there are two good reasons why the idea never went away: Creating a font family has became simple with contemporary type creation software, and the power of branding has encouraged foundries add variations to popular fonts.

the condensed metrics of Utopia or Minion, but the funkier mixed straight and curved serifs modeled after agate fonts—just like Meta (which, for marketing and technical reasons won’t be renamed Meta Sans.) Like Leitura, Meta Serif and Meta make a solid one-two punch for creating a knockout page of editorial.

Leitura

Designed by Dino dos Santos of DSType, a small foundry based in Portugal, the Leitura Type System is a whole family of sans, serif, headline and news text fonts. All the members of the system have unified x-heights, ascenders and descenders. The increasingly bolder weights, designated 1 through 4 for each family member, have corresponding color at each weight. These factors make mixing and matching individual fonts a seamless operation, so they work perfectly together.

Meta Serif

Medic’s Advice

We all die. The trick is to do it on our own terms: Leave a will, clarify our legacy, provide for loved ones. Consumer Reports’ publisher must essentially do the same thing. The magazine will undergo reconstructive surgery this year, which will certainly help extend its life for a while. Over time, the mission must be to morph into a collection of bright, readable helpmates to the CR website, which will become the dominant product within this sprawling family. Otherwise, sorry to report, there’s no afterlife in this scenario.

The huge success of Meta—what Robin Kinross supposedly called “the Helvetica of the ’90s,” (although we think Helvetica was the Helvetica of the ’90s)—resulted in a huge expansion of the sans serif family originally designed by Eric Spiekermann—but until now, no serif version. So many fans of Meta asked Spiekermann which serif face would best complement it that he realized he should draw his own serif Meta. He enlisted the help of former protégé Christian Schwartz and a young New Zealand designer, Kris Sowersby, to work on the font, which was recently released by FontShop. Schwartz says, “We knew it needed to be more than just Meta with slab serifs slapped onto it. It needed to be 100% compatible with the sans, but still able to stand on its own as a legitimate text typeface. In the end, I think Meta Serif has only a passing resemblance to Meta, but when you set a headline or a block of text, it somehow looks just like it.” That summarizes the basic virtue of the new font, which has

ONE FONT FITS ALL Each color outline represents a di erent font set in Leitura—roman, news, sans or headlines. They share common shapes and weights, so they work together well.

Roman1 Roman 4

Headline Serif Headline Sans
The goal of Leitura, according to dos Santos, “was to design a very neutral type family that could work in every kind of editorial design, from magazines to newspapers, without anything that distracts attention from what’s most important: the text. I really wanted to achieve a certain kind of invisibility on the typeface, but with a set of features like consistent metrics and interchangeability, that enable the designer to easily navigate though the various weights.” dos Santos based Leitura on 16th century oldstyles such as Plantin, but with the legibility of early 20th century newspaper fonts like Morison’s ubiquitous Times Roman. Nevertheless, the font has Humanistic characteristics, especially in the sans, that gives it a contemporary ri . The matching headline fonts further extend the value of the entire family by providing a compact, dramatic alternative to the text fonts and a contrasting block serif.
SPRING 2008 • FPO MAGAZINE

Grotesque 1 Grotesque 4

[R&R]

THE MAGAZINE MEDIC

a h O L I S T I C a P P R O a C h T O h e a LT h I e R m a g a z I N e S

U.S. News: Once Weekly. Now Weakly
bY CabLe NeUhaUS

THE PATIENT AGE VITALS PROGNOSIS

U.S. News & World Report 75 Weak, growing weaker Unlikely to last a year

When examining this weary and confused patient, what comes to mind is a quote we recently spotted in a technology magazine. In reference to some shiny piece of whiz-bang gadgetry, the writer observed: “This sort of item is totally unnecessary and totally cool.” About our latest patient, U.S. News & World Report, we say, sadly, “This magazine is totally unnecessary and, at this point, totally uncool.” It is a harsh summing-up, but USN&WR is a magazine that has failed to thrive for so long, through so many incarnations, and with such confounding ineptitude, that we are left to do little more than sigh as it stumbles into these final stages of a life lived mostly on the fringes of mediocrity. Its future, by its own admission, is online. As the familiar, if predictably dull, weekly magazine, the game is essentially over. This is the kind of prognosis one never enjoys delivering. Really, though, what can one say (if one is trying to be sensitive, which we are) about a perpetual third-place finisher in a three-book race? U.S. News has never made a serious run at either Time or Newsweek. To be kind to the ol’ book, it has more or less stuck to what it believed it did best: consistently report on serious topics, mainly political and economic matters, with a slightly conservative bent. The editors seemed not to give a rat’s hindquarters about anything related to entertainment and celebrity, and they once famously

boasted in a TV commercial that pop culture was just too silly to claim one of U.S. News’ sober covers. And so the team left Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez and the rest of the overheated Hollywood crowd to Time and Newsweek, and instead ran cover stories on such sizzling topics as…the Civil War. And we can see how that worked out, can’t we? So while it’s admirable that the editors of U.S. News went their own way—we applaud vision!—it turns out that it was not a winning way. Nor, however, was the path taken by the two category leaders. That must definitely be acknowledged. Both Time and Newsweek also have been thrashed by the sinking economy and the surging Internet. Newsweek has reacted by announcing a bold overhaul, a global repositioning, if you will. Circulation leader Time, for its part, seems pretty happy with what it’s got going, at least for now. When patients come before the Magazine Medic, it’s always prudent to review their recent charts. In the case of USN&WR, the key indicators are especially telling. Let’s quickly review: J SePTembeR 2005 Asked if the magazine might abandon the newsweekly category, the company’s president delivers an unambiguous denial: “No, we’re a newsweekly. We’ll always be a newsweekly….We’re going to do more of what’s been working— analysis and investigative pieces.”

US NeWS, OLd aNd NeW

A 1988 cover looks nearly the same as the 1998 cover below it. The current design from December hardly presents news. At right, the future of USN&WR—a monthly in-depth service story.

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J JUNe 2008 The magazine reduces its frequency from weekly to every-other-weekly, a huge admission that things aren’t going well. J JULY 2008 As its Web traffic soars, the print magazine unveils a redesign, including a new logo. The editor, Brian Kelly, tells readers, “We’re changing the way we think of the magazine.” J NOvembeR 2008 The magazine again reduces its frequency, to monthly, effectively removing itself from the newsweekly category. Ownership reports that paid circulation is down slightly less than 9 percent for the period (to about 1.8 million)—but ad revenues plummet. So, what are we left with? The latest in a long history of U.S. News desperation rethinks was unveiled in February. The entire issue was devoted

to ‘A Complete Guide to Health & Wellness.’ Quite nicely done, too. Editor Brian Kelly once more tried to explain what is happening to the magazine: “The next step in our evolution is the monthly issue…you are holding in your hands. Each print issue will alternate among our main subjects: This month is health; in March we look at money and investing,” and so on. Poor Brian Kelly. It’s got to be exhausting to keep redefining—and justifying— one’s magazine to its readers. What is USN&WR all about in the year 2009? What’s its point? The magazine that invented the back-of-book “News You Can Use” concept has now basically turned itself into a sort of monthly guide to living longer, better, and happier in an age

of economic despair. Its highly regarded hospital, college, and assorted other “Best” guides will move to other platforms, including, of course, the Web. The front of the book has, amazingly, vanished. News, serious news? Not anymore.

Prescription
The powers that be at U.S News have made some chew-your-ownarm-off decisions in their live-ordie predicament. But it’s still not enough. Reassign the editorial staff to financial, real estate, technology, auto and maybe even fashion guides, with an emphasis on rankings, rankings and more rankings. Don’t sell against Time, Newsweek, the high-stepping Economist, or other news titles. Don’t sit alongside them on newsstands either. Instead, make other consumer guides your neighbors in those pockets. In sum, stop living in the past. Own up to your new identity and embrace it.

A year ago the Magazine Medic devoted several hundred words to Consumer Reports, which we said was “stodgy” and “in need of a wholesale makeover.” Since then, CR has unveiled a front-to-back freshening. In our judgment, the editors didn’t go far enough, not nearly. Navigation has been slightly improved, the visuals are cleaner, and the table of contents is more functional. But, overall, the print version of CR remains dowdy—as if edited for octogenarians—at a time when its website, surprisingly, is both brighter and deeper. Too bad. An opportunity missed.

Revisiting a Former Patient

Prospects
We don’t foresee a long life for this book, no matter how clever its reinvention. Even our proposed U.S. News Reports, if done smartly, might be good for a couple of years. Then, unless the economics of the industry somehow change (not going to happen, alas), USN&WR will probably disappear from newsstands and mailboxes. It will be a Web product exclusively. That’s not a tragedy. It’s merely the likely outcome. Sometimes letting go is the best course.
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THE MAGAZINE MEDIC
People Still Need People
BY CABLE NEUHAUS

A H O L I S T I C A P P R O A C H T O H E A LT H I E R M A G A Z I N E S

People 35 Steady Requires constant care, but should remain vibrant
THE PATIENT: AGE: VITALS: PROGNOSIS:

PEOPLE, THEN AND NOW The first issue of

People Weekly features Mia Farrow—but inside were stories about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Marina Oswald. More recent issues feature demographicallypandering content—celebrity weddings, flame-outs and former fatties.

It wasn’t long ago that “celebrity” magazines were just about the most rosy-cheeked in the industry. If you could put Jennifer Lopez or someone as pretty and bland as Zac Efron on every one of your covers, no matter what the justification, you were assured excellent health. No more. They may be among the last of the consumer titles to get dinged, but even the glossy celeb books have not been immune to the contagion that has swept the nation’s newsstands, laying waste to a great many brands that once seemed hearty and invulnerable. The picture is ghastly. Despite all that, it is really no surprise to find that still standing among the dusty ruins is our current patient, the indefatigable People. People has never fancied itself a “celebrity” magazine. From the start, publisher Time Inc. insisted that what separates this weekly from all the other pretenders to its cashcushioned throne is that while People covers stars and VIPs, it is equally about the simple folks next door (if, for instance, the folks next door happen to have won a $100 million lottery or gone on a high-profile killing spree). To an extent, that is true. But let’s not kid ourselves. People thrives because it’s the go-to magazine for legit news about the rich, the famous, and the famously washed-up. The Magazine Medic knows this territory well, and he is

obligated here to acknowledge that he held various editorial positions at People (then People Weekly) for a decade, beginning almost from the book’s inauspicious launch. He recalls the early days, when the magazine was little more than a blackand-white picture fanzine with deep captions, and the heydays (mid-’80s), when People published some of the most arresting stories around on the topics of crime, power, and the ravages of too-early success. But that was then. Let’s be honest, the ’Net changed everything in this business, but notably readers’ tolerance for long-form (even medium-form) journalism. Now, to call what People does—or did—long-form journalism is to invite ridicule. The Medic accepts that. However, by comparison to what one finds in People these days—well, let’s just say some of those old issues practically reek of literary journalism. Does that matter? Not if you’re interested in seeing the magazine continue to trounce its competition and earn a profit. As others struggle, People, with a circulation of nearly 3.7 million, is holding its own. Advertisers, though booking pages less enthusiastically than they once did (of course), are hanging in. At Time Inc., where People remains a critical profit center, the magazine is so micro-managed that it would be shocking to see it sustain serious economic injury. Any fair assessment of People would, however, show that the

title is vulnerable on a number of fronts. It will require more than vigilant caretakers as it moves deeper into the age of the Web, which is so beautifully suited to covering the fleeting fame of showbiz luminaries.

Prescription
People once led the pack. Now, it is merely one of the pack. It makes far more dough than any other celebrity magazine, it usually out-reports its rivals, and it ponies up for the most in-demand photographs. Sure. But the Medic would defy the typical reader in this crowded field to separate People from current issues of Us Weekly, Star, In Touch Weekly, even OK! and Life & Style Weekly. We’re not saying the books are equal. The reigning

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CULTURE PEARLS Franchise content in People have become part of our popular culture, and annual issues are anticipated and dissected throughout the media.

king is fatter, broader, more nuanced, and generally more believable. It has resources no one else can match. But c’mon— all these titles have grown way too similar in too many ways. For that you can blame Us Weekly, which under Bonnie Fuller’s editorial hand began to seriously challenge People’s newsstand crown. Time Inc.’s brand managers, who leave little to chance, were deeply shaken. People’s people responded. How? Covers soon began

featuring lots of the bright pink that Us so adored. The pages grew crowded and inelegant. Stories got shorter, gossipier. More of them focused on fashion, plus the everyday comings and goings of young Hollywood actors and their companions. In sum, People morphed into a highbrow version of Us. What a shame. Strong magazines boast powerful differentiations. People is no longer different enough. What does it need to do? Be itself! People has a robust Web presence, which it pumps vigorously in the print magazine. It puts out a series of successful spin-offs and specials (People Style W atch and such) as well as its much-anticipated “Most Beautiful People” and “Sexiest Man Alive” issues. All good. When an A-list celebrity needs to come clean about an indiscretion, People is widely considered a top choice for that. But how about if the magazine decided to grow up a bit and once again publish some stories of substance?—meaning, oh, anything of 1,500 words or so. We don’t see that these days, or hardly. Instead, what we have is a magazine of chunks. And boxes. Page after overly busy page of chunks and boxes: pictures, snippet-length reports, and endless sidebars. One longs for a single column of uninterrupted type. We’d advise returning to a more cooled-down iteration of People—something from the

pre-Bonnie Fuller era of celebrity journalism. Naturally, we realize that research (Time Inc. loves research) demonstrates the limits of audience attention spans in 2009 America, but People is The Big Dude on the block and surely has the power to more than mimic. So, go…backward? Yes. Absolutely. Assert your earned authority, People! While others festoon their covers with blaring, neon headlines, we say simplify yours. Calm the waters: Let’s see fewer exclamation points on your heads, a little more confidence in the presentation, a sense that, hey, folks, this is People magazine—we don’t need to shout because, ya know, we’ve got the goods. Always have. That’s your critical differentiation. Further, let’s impose some order on the flow of the contents, and slow the pace. Y slow it, es, for the good of both the reader and the advertiser. Wouldn’t it be nice to once again see that regular rotation of clearly defined People departments? Crime? Couples? Splits? Spirit? People got away from that as it moved into the crappified, anything-goes model of its competitors. We hate— really hate—to revert to old-think magazine-making. Is that what we’re essentially advising in this case? We are. An excellent case can be made for a modern reinterpretation of the “classic edition” of this venerable American magazine. People was once easier to read, a better

read, a more organized read. And, without question, a less visually assaulting read. How inventive do editors need to get when they try to justify to colleagues the messiness of these new-breed celebrity magazines? We know, we know—the women who are drawn to the category are not offended by the clutter. Their lives are cluttered. All the more reason, we respectfully say to People’s editors: Do a good deed and clean the darn place up!

Prospects
People will get along just fine if it continues to nourish its highoctane, breaking-news website while securing its standing among its weaker print competitors. Some of those books will undoubtedly disappear from the scene, going where all malnourished magazines eventually go. Our patient will remain standing. Even in these worst of times, even as it produces a me-too magazine that utterly fails to showcase its considerable in-house talent, People is pretty healthy. One is thus reluctant to overprescribe. First, as they say, do no harm. That noted, we’re of the mind that powerful brands should always be opportunistic and attempt to break away from the barking pups at their heels. As it happens, this is the perfect time for People to do just that—in essence, to use its deep reserves to tone and shape in preparation for the tough market conditions that show few signs of abating anytime soon.

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THE MAGAZINE MEDIC
Psychology Today—Not Crazy After All of These years
by CAbLE NEuHAuS

A H O L I S T I C A P P R O A C H T O H E A LT H I E R m A g A Z I N E S

A healthy mind makes a healthy body of work

THE PATIENT: AGE: 

VITALS:

PROGNOSIS:

Psychology Today 37 Steady Very Good

The Magazine Medic’s day is filled with unpleasant duties: dispensing truly awful news about what had seemed to be a temporary circulation malady, but isn’t; sharing progress reports on healing therapies that aren’t yet doing much good; helping the grieving get through a title’s death or, perhaps even worse, news of further job cuts. It is not a routine for the faint of heart. Nearly everyone in the biz is wounded, and one can observe widespread pallor among the survivors. It is an unexpected surprise when, if only rarely, one can look an American magazine in the eye and see something other than impending doom staring back. How nice, then, that during our latest rounds we spot a certain something that reminds us of what it’s like when a vigorous, mature magazine saunters onto a rough and tumble playing field full of swagger and kicks a little ass. Psychology Today, which was subjected to our standard checkup, competes in the rarified air of “science” books. Imagine going head-to-head, more or less, with Scientific American (at not nearly its peak strength since some ill-fated strategic moves a while back), Discover, and a smattering of other similar titles. In that group, PT looks like a winner. It’s confident, bold, stylish. Best of all, it’s got the stats to back up its bluster. Despite a withering economy, the book’s verified paid circ

has been holding steady for the last three years at something just north of 307,000. Granted, the numbers haven’t increased, but the newsstand-oriented bi-monthly hasn’t spent any money on promotion during that period either. It has maintained its mostly female audience and, for the most part, its advertisers by delivering the editorial goods. Where’s the bad news? The blemish in an otherwise healthy report? There is none, we are delighted to tell you. Every once in a while the Medic probes, palpates, and reads the charts, only to find a patient that has defied the odds. As it happens, in times of widespread angst, even gloom, PT is well positioned to hold its ground. It presents a kind of handbook to getting through the dread. Post 9/11, who isn’t more fearful, more on edge, less confident about everything from job security to mortgage rates to erectile dysfunction? Psychology Today knows it can exploit all those well-founded worries, and it has. Not that that’s a bad thing. The truth of the matter is that the worse things get for most of us, the better the odds that PT will thrive. We need it when we’re particularly hurting or confused about core selves. Kaja Perina, PT ’s editor in chief, says, “I focus on what I call gut issues. The subject matter we deal with is perennial. It won’t go away.” What are gut issues?

Relationships. Fears. Things that go bump in the middle of our lonely, sweat-filled nights. “People don’t just want feel-good stories in the magazine. They want problems articulated,” Perina says. “Even negativity can sell a cover if you offer clear remedies.” What you won’t find on the cover of PT are celebrities. They disappeared some years ago in favor of conceptual designs, some of them, frankly, rather out there. “If we couldn’t do celebrity covers well, we weren’t going to do them,” Perina tells us.

Prescription
Dance with the topics and the bravado that brung ya to this point. Let’s have more about the complexity of human relationships, most of which, let’s face it, are poised to go south at some stage. A huge newsstand seller last year was the magazine’s “Jealousy” cover, which carried the subhead, “Why It’s Really About You.” There was no way that one was going to miss. Jealousy is one of those eternal impulses, like hunger, fear, and sex. Except for hunger, the others are sure-fire cover subjects, as its editor knows well. The first cover of this year was “First Love, First Loss: How Early Experiences Shape You.” Not bad, but we’d hurry back to sex as soon as possible. At least three times annually. “10 Ways to Perk Up a Relationship,” a feature that ran in last

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STEAdy AS SHE gOES

Psychology Today has spent over 40 years plumbing the depths of human behavior. Its cover strategies have always been provocative to entice the popular consumer reader.

December’s “Creativity” issue, may be right out of Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmo, but seeing as it was written by a post-doc student at Southern Cal, it fit right into PT ’s more high-brow edit mix. We liked that story. Psychology Today has clout among its mostly lay audience because its writers are the real deal—psychologists, for the most part, who have figured out that, in the era of Malcolm Gladwell, they have got explanations to our maddening culture that people are lining up hear. The editors use their experts wisely. Overall, the magazine is nicely organized, its story selection on the mark, its headlines damned provocative when you consider the serious nature of the subject matter. “Are You Normal?” asked a recent cover skyline. Hmmm. The implication is that we may not be—and what a can of worms that revelation is bound to crack open. One bit of advice we’d offer PT: Break up the Insights section at the front. It’s a messy 20-page farrago of interviews, digests, stories, boxes, and such. Way too much beneath a single umbrella. Let’s gather the bits into more natural subsections. That would be helpful. We’d also advise the editors to increase the “blogs” section from one page to two, or even three. It turns out that blogs are a kind of secret sauce for PT; the editors have figured

out that the real power of their eponymous Website is in the blogs, which have developed a sizable fan base. Nearly 600 writers contribute—and each is paid in a split-revenue formula based on page views. A few brief excerpts from these blogs run in the book, almost as a tease. The Medic says this is such a good idea that it ought to be expanded, at least on the print side. The Web side is already going crazy with activity. According to Perina, PT ’s editor, traffic to psychologytoday.com has doubled since 2008, much of it driven by the blogs.

Prospects
We live in perilous times. Enemies have sworn to bring us down. The divorce rate is a national embarrassment. We don’t know who to trust, who to touch, how to behave. In sum, we need help. Or at least someone to tell us when we’ve done good or bad, and maybe how not to always blame ourselves when things go wrong. Who to turn to? Oprah is preparing to leave TV. And Rush Limbaugh isn’t exactly the go-to guy to soothe our worries. His job is to produce them. But we do have Psychology Today—steady, reliable, trustable, and recently sexed-up Psychology Today. It’s even capping the P and T again after a period of lower-case modesty. The famous ol’ strut is back, and with good reason.

SEx ANd THE PSyCHE The best selling issues of PT are always about sexuality, but it would be an easy mistake to fall into too much emphasis on one topic.

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