Gay Talese’s Basement
While mainstream America was ungracefully trying to shake its hips to the animated beat of Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca” and filling its belly with crunch-wrapped Chalupa Supremes and seven-layer burritos, another Latin revolution began making its own noise. During the last decade the number of Hispanic magazine titles in North America has grown more than any other sector of the print industry, from 124 in 1996 to 329 in 2006, according to the Standard Periodical Directory published by Oxbridge Communications.
Among the pioneers in an industry that has gradually drawn the eyes of what in 2003 officially became the largest minority in the country—and with them the attention of advertising firms and their corporate clients—was Hispanic Publishing, a Miami-based company founded in 1987 by local businessman Alfredo Estrada.
Hispanic Magazine, the company’s flagship, would chronicle the surging political, economic and cultural influence of the Hispanic community by bringing its readers face to face with the leaders, professionals, artists and trendsetters who sparked the Latino boom during the last decade.
Hispanic was born as a general-interest monthly publication aimed at reaching upscale Latino professionals, in an effort to distance itself from the stereotype in the Latino print industry: celebrity-based publications. Unfortunately, it has fallen short of its original goal by taking an easier road to success. Instead of focusing on the real issues, with “upbeat, informative stories,” as its mission statement says it should, Hispanic focuses on entertainment and lifestyle themes written in an unengaging tone, making it repetitive and predictable. To reach the upscale Hispanic audience it’s aiming for, Hispanic needs a more attractive design, compelling stories developed through long-form, in-depth journalism and content its readers can use, such as well-constructed service sections.
Hispanic is undergoing some major changes. In November 2004, Hispanic Publishing teamed up with Editorial Televisa, a division of Mexico City-based Grupo Televisa, the largest Spanish-language media conglomerate in the world, in an effort to boost the magazine’s performance. The move came at a time when the 18-year-old publication’s advertising pages had dropped by almost 20 percent in 2005, according to Hispanic Magazine Monitor, a service that tracks the Hispanic publication market. Hispanic Magazine Monitor estimated Hispanic’s advertising revenue at $6.5 million in 2005, ranking it ninth among the top 10 Hispanic magazines in the market, which is led by People en Español, Latina Magazine and Reader’s Digest Selecciones.
Besides a new editorial structure, the merger resulted in editorial alterations visible in the February issue, the first published under the new management. The new editorial team has cleaned up and redesigned the cover, and changed the tagline from “Our People, Our Issues” to “Gain Perspective,” an apparent acknowledgement that tailoring content for the arbitrary target audience of “Hispanic-Americans” might be a more difficult task than anticipated when confronted with the diversity of the Hispanic population in the U.S.
Inside the magazine, Hispanic’s designers sought to add more personality. But changing fonts and color palettes is not enough—the look of the magazine is still monotonous and the navigation unfriendly. Possibly the new team needs more time to make the adjustments that will reinvigorate Hispanic’s out-of-date presentation.
Hispanic has an interesting approach to bilingual content. The section names are in both Spanish and English. The articles are only in English, while the advertisements are solely in Spanish.
The articles tend to be short—the longest ran four pages, but most are one page or less. They are complemented by plenty of photographs. The February issue suffered from an acute case of list-itis (the 25 most powerful Hispanics, the 100 companies providing most opportunities for Hispanics, the 10 best Hispanic records of all time), which has become a tedious habit around the industry.
Who exactly is Hispanic and, more importantly, what are the values and interests Hispanic readers hold in common? These questions remain unanswered throughout the Hispanic media industry. The success of Hispanic and the hundreds of other entities that have emerged from this media explosion depends largely on the magazine’s ability to tailor content to an audience that is as diverse and complex as the challenges faced by the people who make up this segment of the U.S. population.
At 18 years old, the self-appointed “leading publication of the Latino household” has an opportunity to play a central role. But first, it must leave the mistakes of its adolescence behind and recreate itself so that it has a chance at a long, healthier life.