The New York Review of Magazines » Candice Chan The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 Uncovered Wed, 12 May 2010 15:01:41 +0000 Candice Chan Glamour chose its ‘sexy!’ cover for June.]]> By Candice Chan

The walls of the cream-colored office are plastered with magazine covers. Gridded in straight lines from ceiling to floor, almost 36 Glamour covers can be found in sequential order. Keira Knightley, Victoria Beckham, Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift… all of the cover subjects since 2008. With only two free walls — the others are occupied by shelves and windows — every free inch of space is filled by either a Glamour alumna’s face, or by other images under consideration for the cover of the issue now in the works.

Peeking out of the May 2010 cover is Lauren Conrad from MTV’s The Hills, with her blond hair blowing in the wind. Sporting a striped white top and beaten denim shorts, she is every bit the free-spirited California girl. But there’s also an unmistakable Glamour X-factor: minx-like appeal and a healthy dollop of girl-next-door accessibility. A bold cover line, “sexy hair!”, is scrawled across the page in a cursive font, and damned if you don’t want to be Conrad — or date her — because of that sexy hair. It seems like she’s selling the fashion, health and beauty tips inside the magazine. That responsibility, however, actually belongs to a savvy and meticulous editorial team.

This office, filled with images of absurdly beautiful women, belongs to Geraldine Hessler, Glamour’s design director. Hessler, along with deputy editor Lauren Brody and me, are tucked inside the small room, 16 floors above Times Square, discussing the centerpiece of every magazine: the cover.

“The cover is the most important page of a magazine,” Hessler says. “This is what’s going to sell magazines — the image and the cover lines, all working together.” She should know. Hessler worked on Entertainment Weekly’s covers for 10 years before becoming creative director of Glamour in 2008.

In that single page, through the cover image and the words that accompany it, a magazine’s entire ethos must be expressed — and displayed for potential readers to see as they race to the subway in the morning. I wanted to understand the alchemy an editorial team performs each month to draw readers in.

“What do you think?” Hessler asks, pointing to the three potential covers for the June issue pinned to the wall behind my head.

“Uh . . . personally?”

She laughs. “Yes.”

It’s hard to make a snap decision, and what I’m looking at is already the culmination of a complex, multi-layered process. There have been several meetings before this. First, Brody and co-deputy editor Wendy Naugle gave the junior staff a collection of all the articles scheduled for that issue. Then the 12 junior staffers, prepared with about 50 suggestions each, met with the deputy editors to brainstorm ideas for cover lines.

The best moments are when “somebody will have one line, with just a great word or phrase we haven’t used before,” Brody tells me. “It feels like something you, your sister and your friend are all saying. Something very conversational.”

From there, Brody and Naugle compiled a shorter list with the best lines and — with images and words in hand — attended a meeting with editor-in-chief Cindi Leive (who is an ex-president of the American Society of Magazine Editors) and the senior edit team, where the whole process began again.

“We’ll come up with a few great suggestions for lines that will work,” Brody says. “But even after all of that, it will still evolve 30 times before it’s actually printed.”

Before my meeting with Hessler, Brody explained to me all the components of Glamour’s cover. I asked her about a statement made by J.C. Suares, a creative consultant who has worked on countless covers. He said that the average number of words featured on a typical magazine cover was 70, but Glamour, he pointed out, uses 80 to 100 words. (For more on Suares’s rules for making a hit cover, see sidebar on facing page.) Brody laughed. “I would like to attribute that to the fact that we have a lot of content,” she said. “We’re able to get away with using more than average because we have such poppy colors, and the white background helps with the contrast so people can see and read them.”

While I was with Brody, copy chief Alix McNamara came in and dropped off a copy-checked version of a working cover, along with a lengthy written note about it. The largest headline read: “The Sexiest Swimsuit for Your Body: Curvy? Skinny? It’s all Good!” In blue pen, McNamara had circled the word “skinny.” In her note, she raised some questions: Is “skinny” a positive or negative word, and how do people feel about it? Is “slim” a better option?

Brody told me that, typically, the boldest line (“sexy hair!” on the Lauren Conrad issue) needs to reflect the image on the cover and express what is likely to flash through readers’ minds when they see it. Many magazines use focus groups to determine which lines and designs will work best, and, during testing, Glamour found that readers respond particularly well when the largest cover line captures the atmosphere of the photo.

But all of the seven or eight cover lines featured each month, large or small, are combed over extensively. McNamara has noted use of the word “good” twice, which is a no go, and also that there are five exclamation points scattered about the page — far too many. Everything is meticulously critiqued and analyzed, including the sizes and styles of the fonts, because a single misstep can be disastrous. The numbers in some lines (“59 Cute, Casual Outfits That Look Good on Everyone”) have to be fact-checked. Brody herself, along with research editor Sally Dorst, will go through every page, counting to make sure there are actually 59.

For the upcoming cover now under consideration, there are 101 working versions on Hessler’s computer, but only three are tacked behind me. Cover design varies from magazine to magazine, but for a commercial women’s publication like Glamour, there’s a formula that is used each month to reinforce the brand: Celebrity woman + terrific clothes (possibly expensive, but must be something you want to wear) + snazzy, eye-catching blurbs = fabulous Glamour cover.

To be a Glamour cover girl, you need to be of the moment — with a few additions. Brody explained the three requirements candidates must satisfy: 1. Readers have to feel warmly toward her or, at least, be fascinated with her. 2. There must be a book, movie or project she is connected to that is released around the time the issue is published. Or, lacking that, 3. there has to be some kind of breaking news about her. An example Brody cited was Ashley Judd’s revelation that she had a behavioral addiction for which she had gone to rehab.

Of the covers Hessler is asking me to look at, each uses a different photo, though they feature the neon color palette and clean, thin lettering that have become Glamour staples. June is their annual swimsuit issue, and the cover will be a departure from the norm for two reasons. First, they are considering images of three women instead of their typical one (Cindi Leive’s idea) and, second, instead of the usual recognizable celebrity, the three women who have been selected are all models: Brooklyn Decker, from Sports Illustrated’s 2010 swimsuit issue; Alessandra Ambrosio, a Victoria’s Secret “Angel”; and Crystal Renn, a plus-sized model who has appeared in runway shows and on the covers of international versions of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.

Renn’s inclusion is important, especially since she’s wearing a purple bikini. Body consciousness has been on the minds of Glamour’s readers ever since a small photo of a “normal sized woman” (size 12 model Lizzi Miller), almost nude with a bit of belly falling over her thong, appeared in the September 2009 issue. It drew a huge response from readers reacting to seeing “a real woman” in a commercial magazine’s pages. (“The most amazing photograph I’ve ever seen in any women’s magazine,” wrote one reader from Georgia.) With this cover, Glamour is building on that buzz, displaying women of different sizes and swimsuit body shapes.

Which of the covers do I like? I take a closer look.

The one on my left has Renn leaning into Ambrosio in the middle, and Decker leaning into her from behind. They’re all laughing, and they could be gorgeous girlfriends asked on a lark to pose for a studio picture.

The middle image has Renn standing alone in her purple bikini, but bent slightly to the side so a crease of folded skin is beginning to show around her stomach. This is an obvious nod to the Lizzi Miller photo from September, particularly since there has been no retouching to make her look slimmer. It would be an interesting cover purely because Renn’s voluptuous body stands out. As an avid reader of women’s magazines, I can’t remember the last time (or any time) I saw a full-figured woman baring it all. (Except, notably, in the inaugural issue of Love. See page 66 for a review of that magazine’s first year.)

The third image is almost the same as the first, with the three women leaning into one another, but this one seems more posed. The smiles are more plastic, and Renn looks almost uncomfortable when you notice how her torso has been elongated to make her look thinner.

“I really like the one with her. It’s pleasing to see a normal body,” I say, referring to the cover in the middle. Then I point to the one on the left. “But I really like this image. They seem less posed, and more like they’re having a good time hanging out together.”

“Right, like a girlfriend vibe,” Hessler says. “These are girls you can have a cocktail with, talk about your boyfriend, and girls who aren’t going to steal your boyfriend.”

Take a look at the cover the Glamour editors chose (shown at the beginning of this article), and judge for yourself, but here’s my take: Looking at the three women together, there isn’t an unattainable air to the characters you’re seeing. They’re playful and charming — not the drop-dead hottie that Decker appeared to be on Sports Illustrated, or the unbelievably leggy Ambrosio strutting down the Victoria’s Secret runway. It seems like an honest moment that I want to be a part of. I want my girlfriends to be like that. The intimacy and comfort of these three women together would make me want to buy the magazine when I see it on a newsstand.

The cover is what gets the reader into the magazine, but what counts the most is what’s behind that door. “You have an obligation not to just attract a reader, but to make good on what you’re promising,” Brody says. “If you want a reader for life, you’ve got to be honest.”

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How is 48 Hour Magazine Already For Sale? MagCloud Tue, 11 May 2010 20:40:55 +0000 Candice Chan By Candice Chan

As mentioned in this post, the mag that was built (quickly) over the weekend by a small team of editors using contributions from across the world, is now up for sale. You can find a copy, and a view of the magazine in miniature PDF form, at the MagCloud website.

A division of Hewlett-Packard, MagCloud takes completed and designed magazines in PDF form and streamlines the publishing process. You send them the content; they send you the proofs to review. Once proofs are approved, they store the magazine until a buyer orders a copy, then they print it, bind it, and send it. It’s a definitively democratized process for producing a publication, since anyone and everyone can submit their work. (Not surprisingly, using the site is like sending your photos to HP or Kodak’s website where they’ll print the images for you.)

It’s a good sign for any of us who are looking to start our own periodicals, though, and it’s refreshing to see niche titles like The Indie Game Magazine and NYC BridgeRunners throughout the site. At the very least, it means that there’s still an interest, and hopefully a thirst, for the glossy bound books that we love here at NYRM.

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What is Your Dream Magazine? Wed, 12 May 2010 04:01:08 +0000 Candice Chan NYRM asks five editors what magazine sections they would steal to create their dream magazine.]]> By Candice Chan

This year we tried a variation on our usual “What are they reading?” question. We asked five magazine insiders to tell us what sections they admire (i.e., would love to steal) from their favorite magazines to create one epic-ultra-super magazine to rule them all.

Which magazine has your favorite design and why?
O’Brien: Bon Appétit. It’s beautiful and inviting and absolutely accessible. There is a tone — a flavor, if you will — that infuses the entire magazine and that matches and enhances the subject matter.

Bertsos: Bon Appétit. I swear, sometimes I feel like the food is in 3-D. So I try not to buy it too often, because it makes me too hungry!

Johnson: Wired, because the artwork is very clever, the photography is excellent, it’s typically very clean and very creative and interesting.

Henig: New York magazine. The white space, the fun graphics, the great photography — and the way they preserve but translate that design on the website — are so engaging and well-executed.

Rosen: The Guardian’s G2. Seamless type treatment among all Guardian properties: newspaper, magazine, website.

If you could choose one magazine from which to steal the writing, which would it be and why?
O’Brien: The New Yorker. Not always the flashiest or the “sexiest” writing out there, but always immensely satisfying. I open each issue knowing that I’m going to find intelligent, graceful prose. I appreciate that the magazine runs long stories and doesn’t tart them up.

Bertsos: Can it be a newspaper? Specifically, the Modern Love column in The New York Times. I would pay $5 just to read that every Sunday; it features the best, least-cheesy essays on relationships I read anywhere.

Johnson: Definitely The New Yorker. I think far and away they have the best writing.

Henig: The New York Times Magazine. So few publications these days are able to invest in pieces that require months of reporting. The Times can, and it shows. Voice and color shine through.

Rosen: The Atlantic: Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, James Fallows, and on and on . . .

Which magazine has your favorite front of book section and why?
O’Brien: New York’s Intelligencer does exactly what a “front of the book” section should, in terms of mixing items that seem surprising and fresh and of immediate connection to the reader.

Bertsos: Okay, obviously I’m biased, but Glamour. We don’t treat the “front of book” like a second-class section, and it shows. The shorter form allows us to pack in all the most current stuff women want to read about. Pick it up — you’ll see!

Johnson: Harper’s Magazine — I’m a little biased because I was an intern there. There are no problems trying to pick up the interesting information because it’s very simply presented.

Henig: I’m a sucker for the Harper’s reading section. Varied, smart and sure to provide good dinner party conversation fodder.

Rosen: The New York Times Magazine: The Way We Live Now, Deborah Solomon, Diagnosis, On Language — consistent high standards.

If you could steal the art and/or photography from any magazine, which would it be and why?
O’Brien: A number of magazines come to mind here. The New York Times Magazine is one, so is The Atlantic. Bon Appétit literally makes me salivate. I also think Sports Illustrated is very good — but I guess I can’t steal from my own magazine. I suppose, though, if forced to choose, it would be National Geographic. There’s never an issue that doesn’t astonish me at least once with a photo.

Bertsos: Departures — you know, that luxe travel/lifestyle mag that is sent free to people with an AmEx platinum card? I’m not one of them, but when I manage to snag someone else’s copy, I feel like I’ve got something really expensive in my hands.

Johnson: Vanity Fair photography is hard to beat — Annie Leibovitz for profile photography. In terms of art design, I think Wired is really first rate.

Henig: Art + Auction. The pages are so big and glossy, so everything really pops.

Rosen: Purple: Just look at it.

If you could steal one writer from any magazine, who would it be and why?
O’Brien: All right. I’ve been thinking about this for way too long — and have already spent way too much time reading stuff on the web by Pat Jordan, J.R. Moehringer, Christopher Hitchens, Steve Rushin (I’d be stealing him back!), Hanna Rosin and Carlo Rotella. Put me down for coveting Anthony Lane.

Bertsos: Again, I’m going with a newspaper for this one: Ariel Kaminer, also known as the “City Critic” for The New York Times. She’s got a finger directly on the pulse of culture — and she’s a funny writer.

Johnson: Right now I’m obsessed with the financial meltdown, so I would steal Michael Lewis from Vanity Fair. As a reporter he has excellent access and gets to the heart of the people at these investment banks, and really tells compelling stories.

Henig: Atul Gawande. That man can do no wrong.

Rosen: Kinky Friedman from Texas Monthly. He’s left the mag, but he was the perfect capper for the idea of his state, which is always represented superbly by TM.

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Marie Claire Thu, 06 May 2010 20:21:49 +0000 Candice Chan Marie Claire]]> By Candice Chan

Circulation: 985,053
Date of Birth: 1994
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $3.50

When I started reading Marie Claire, I found its articles both refreshing and empowering. After flipping through other magazines containing countless variations on the same tired themes — “100 Sexy New Moves He’ll Love” or “His Body Reveals What He’d Never Tell You” — I wanted a women’s magazine that informed me about, well, me. In Marie Claire I found an ethos, and image, I could identify with.

There was fashion, international reporting and some much-needed career advice. There was also relationship and body advice, primarily kept to the “Love/Sex” section, so it never felt like I had to question whether I qualified as a woman. It was a magazine focused on women gaining power to please themselves, instead of women gaining power to please others.

But suddenly, in September of 2009, I noticed a jarring change. Sexually implicit (or explicit) titles, like those I expected from Cosmopolitan, had begun appearing on Marie Claire’s pages.

“The New Trophy Wife” pointed out a hot new trend: Successful Caucasian men were gravitating toward younger Asian women. “Asians (in addition to African orphans) are hot commodities right about now — status symbols as prized as a private Gulfstream jet or a museum wing bearing your name (neither of which goes so well with a frumpy, aging first wife).” Among the couples cited were Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng, and Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn.

Within days of the article’s release, Marie Claire was bombarded with a firestorm of unhappy responses in the press. And I, as an Asian-American woman, found the article particularly offensive. Though it professed to dispel the stereotypes of “geishas” and “dragon-ladies,” it only seemed to bolster these dated perceptions, especially in relation to interracial dating. That article alone made me consider canceling my subscription.

Sadly, it wasn’t an isolated instance. Since then, there’s been a steady flow of titillating subjects. October 2009’s “My Friend is a Mail Order Bride” describes an American woman’s experience watching her Shanghainese friend marry a wealthy, divorced Chinese-Canadian husband she sought out on a website. This January’s “Sleeping with the Boss” profiled women embroiled in love affairs with their employers, a la David Letterman. On the cover of March’s issue, you could find “I Agreed To A Threesome For My Husband’s Birthday.” There seems to be no end to the delectably sinful material the editorial team comes up with these days.

Marie Claire’s U.S. edition is the daughter to a French parent of the same name, part of a large family of global magazines; there are now 27 other national editions. Since 2002, when the magazine had only 350,000 subscribers, it has continued to gain new readers, to reach a circulation just shy of one million as of January 2010. Almost half of those new customers were gained after Joanna Coles took over as editor-in-chief in 2006.

In a visit to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism last year, Coles drew a distinction between her magazine and her competitor, Cosmopolitan, “the sex bible.” She said that Marie Claire isn’t “against orgasms, we just don’t put them on the cover.” When she took control, there was a perceptible change to a magazine “edited for a sexy, stylish, confident woman who is never afraid to make intelligence a part of her wardrobe.”

In contrast to “I Surfed Naked for a Pair of Manolos” and “Orgasm Secrets You Haven’t Heard” in the May 2006 issue, the articles in that October’s issue, which held Coles’ first editor’s note, were deeper and more varied. Subsequent issues profiled international women of note and carried internationally-oriented monthly columns. Female strength, around the world, seemed to have become the magazine’s selling point.

That was then; trophy wives, threesomes and sleeping with the boss are now. What’s behind this change? The editors declined to comment, but it may be that the answer lies in their recent move to market the magazine aggressively on television. They followed the example of Elle, another of Marie Claire’s competitors, which has had great success using TV to expand its brand (in the last few years, Elle has seen an increase in sales, with a circulation rising to 1,105,456 as of June 2009). Elle is featured on MTV’s The City, and in 2008, the magazine aired a reality show, Stylista, on the CW. Marie Claire soon followed, in 2009, with its own reality show, Running in Heels.

As that show was ramping up in 2008, Nina Garcia left Elle and became Marie Claire’s fashion director, bringing glamour and fashion credibility with her — and TV visibility: She had been in the public eye as a judge on the show Project Runway since 2005. It may be that these ties to the mass medium of television produced a conflict between Coles’ avowed intention to position Marie Claire as a beacon for the independent, intelligent woman, and the competitive need to present it as glamorous and sexy.

So far, the edgy new approach has seemed to work. This January, Media Industry Newsletter reported a 23 percent increase in ad pages for Marie Claire in 2009. In many ways, it is still the empowering magazine I remember discovering, and one could argue that the articles mentioned above and the TV-ready attitude are helping the magazine stay afloat in a changing market. But in every provocative article I’ve read, there seems to be an implicit condescension or ridicule embedded in the text — an attitude that doesn’t leave me feeling informed; it leaves me feeling like I picked up just another “sex bible.”

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Glamour Wins Magazine of the Year Wed, 28 Apr 2010 14:40:17 +0000 Candice Chan Glamour!]]> By Candice Chan

Glamour received the National Magazine Awards’ highest honor last week when it became the first title, ever, to win “Magazine of the Year.” Five periodicals were considered for the inaugural year of the illustrious award, including Men’s Health, New York, Fast Company and The Atlantic. In order to qualify, a publication had to “successfully use both print and digital media in fulfilling the editorial mission of the magazine.”

For more information about results from this year’s awards, check out this article in The New York Times.

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A Magazine Built by IMing Mon, 29 Mar 2010 04:10:35 +0000 Candice Chan Inc. magazine communicated solely by IM, phone, and Skype to build their April issue.]]> By Candice Chan

Inc. magazine’s staff played hooky for an entire month. For some hands-on research for an article on virtual offices and to play with perceptions of how the Internet is changing the industry, the staff of Inc. communicated solely by IM, phone, and Skype to build their April issue (which hits newsstands on April 6). For more information, check out a recent New York Times article about the project.

Interested to read all the down and dirty details — or mishaps, as they may be — from an Inc. employee’s perspective? Grab Inc. next week and look for senior writer Max Chafkin’s article, “The Office Is Dead. Long Live the Office.”

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New Guidelines for Digital Magazines on Mobile Devices Mon, 15 Mar 2010 21:59:31 +0000 Candice Chan By Candice Chan

As magazines prepare for the release of the iPad — with revamped, screen-friendly versions of their publications — the Audit Bureau of Circulations has defined new outlines for what will qualify as a digital magazine. The digital edition has to include the full editorial content (and advertising) of the print version, but doesn’t have to have the exact same layout. Also, the digital versions will still be counted in the magazine’s guaranteed circulation for advertisers, or rate base.

To find out more, read the full article.

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Digital Ads Surpass Print Counterparts Thu, 11 Mar 2010 19:32:10 +0000 Candice Chan By Candice Chan

Hot on the heels of the CJR’s study on magazines and their websites comes some big news from another study released by Outsell: web ads, which saw a 10 percent spike this year, have now surpassed their print counterparts.

But that doesn’t mean print ads are obsolete just yet. “Of the $368 billion marketers plan to spend this year, 32.5% will go toward digital; 30.3% to print.”

For more information on the study, check out the full article on

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