Will shopping mags sell?

Do I detect an underlying tone of bitterness in Myrna Blyth's new book, Spin Sisters?

Do I detect an underlying tone of bitterness in Myrna Blyth’s new book, Spin Sisters?

In the book, Blyth, a former editor of Ladies Home Journal, focuses on the influence America’s female media elite have over consumers. Blyth revisits the old theory that

editorial in women’s pubs lowers women’s self esteem, rendering them susceptible to the ad messages in the magazine.

The book also refers to the blurring of the line separating editorial from advertising.

‘New magazines like Lucky blend advertising and editorial almost seamlessly so it’s hard for the reader to know where one ends and the other begins.’

Boy she’s not

kidding. I’m flipping through Lucky and the pages flutter by in a blur of unbroken über-ad-ness. Come to think of it, the only ‘editorial’ is pictures of things to buy. Can a

magazine without stories be called a magazine?

Canadian women, who already had Clin d’Oeil Shopping (Quebecor), now have a small stack of shopping mags. Rogers launched LOULOU this summer while St. Joseph Media is rolling out Fashion Shops (plus a shopping/living hybrid called Wish). Homegrown offerings are

valuable because before you can buy those fancy soap balls, you need to find a store close to home that sells them.

Magazine planners and buyers are torn between the fear of

having an ad opportunity

gobbled up by the competition and the fear of recommending a mag that dies after one issue.

So do these new Canadian shopping magazine titles

represent a big risk for

planners?

‘Less of a risk than usual,’ claims Brenda Bookbinder,

resident magazine expert at PHD Canada. She notes that Lucky is an unqualified

success in the U.S. and

that Rogers and St. Joseph are backing their new titles all

the way.

Brenda also senses that

interest from Canadian

advertisers in the shopping magazine sector has been

growing rapidly. ‘There will be money shifting from existing titles to these new magazines down the road.’

But before we all bow before these ‘unsinkable’ vehicles, let’s play devil’s advocate.

For starters, Lucky is not a big magazine by U.S. standards and the circulation goals for the Canadian shopping titles (about 100,000) are modest. Might TV’s Shopping Channel provide a clue concerning the consumer-pulling power of shopping related editorial? Bad news on that front. Shares are very low.

Magazine planners need to understand a title’s readership dynamic and that kind of

information isn’t going to be available for a while. PMB can’t measure a mag until it publishes at least four issues annually. Factoring in PMB’s interviewing schedule means media types probably won’t have numbers until March ’07. That could dampen growth prospects.

Magazines that invest in real

editorial value earn reader loyalty. Shopping magazines might not create the traction needed to keep subscription churn rates down. This could be the genre of magazines that encourages the competition to wait in the bushes, get some real-world learning and then launch when the launching’s good.

Which brings us back to the question…’Can a

magazine without a story be called a magazine’?

Shopping titles might exhibit media dynamics more akin to out-of-home. They provide window shopping and will rely on glances from ‘passers-by’ for readership.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Our advertisers will get

what they want:

a great environment, consumption-focused readers, timely exposure. Everything will be

great until those passers-by huddle around that new,

fancier store window next door.

And then the shopping titles may have to add those

self-esteem lowering stories that Myrna Blyth keeps

complaining about.

Rob Young is one of the founders of Toronto’s PHD Canada

(formerly HYPN). He can be reached at ryoung@phdca.com.