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.


  1. Doesn't this mean that Peaches Geldof was actually right in her choices for "her" magazine!

  2. On the button as usual, David. It's always important to have a young staffer on any title for the sheer belief factor - it rubs off on everyone else.

    Although these days, as portrayed in The Wire's Baltimore Sun storyline, it's often the young 'uns who end up with all the jobs because they're cheaper.

  3. I would assume that now you've been to visit them there will be a plethora of eager young hacks shamelessly asking for jobs or work-experience opportunities on this very blog / or taking the more private email approach. It's what I did.

  4. I wonder the extent to which this applies to online publishing as well. Presume it does. And online, the mantra of "user centred design" has given "focus groups" a brand new and sexy brand for the 21st century.

  5. Since confidently predicting an early bath for Zoo and Nuts magazines I've kept my mouth shut on such matters.

  6. I've got two questions for research experts.

    What type of person nowadays happily gives up half an hour to talk to a stranger on the phone in the middle of dinner or The Wire?

    And who, on the way out of Waitrose laden with shopping (ideal for the "ab" demographic) would say "yes, I'm free wednesday and I'm happy to sit in a room with a two way mirror for two hours in return for 20 quid even though you can't tell me what we're discussing".

    Not me. Or anyone I know...

  7. It's not just 'entry-level' professionals, in my experience.

    Online, things are different because you do know what people are actually reading, without having to ask them.

    Obviously, you can't tell what else they would rather be reading...