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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The theory and practice of magazines

At City University yesterday I listened to a series of magazine proposals put together by students on their post-graduate journalism programme. This morning I sat through a two-hour meeting dealing with a real life magazine.

The contrast was marked. Yesterday afternoon all of the proposals were distinguished by the not unreasonable belief that you could believe what people told you in research. This morning's discussion was conducted by the light of experience which tells you that while people's opinions are one thing, their behaviour is another altogether.

This cognitive dissonance, which no doubt applies equally to the marketing of margarine or Mercedes, seems particularly pertinent in magazines. As soon as you ask people to tell you why they buy a magazine they will always point to the rational benefits (the listings, the in-depth features) while glossing over the sensory aspects (the naked woman on the front, the encounter with the celebrity inside, the stupid cartoon).

The entry-level professional will tend to work on the principle that if you build it they will come. The more experienced the professional the more likely they are to suspect that, actually, they won't. And of course you can't prove it. But you can show them your scars.