MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Talk's demise says it all about value of clear propositions

As Talk magazine takes its final vow of silence (well, that's the

obligatory pun out of the way, ho ho), publishers around the world will

be wondering what the lessons are.



Is this the end of celebrity-driven titles? Has New York finally fallen

out of love with Tina Brown? Are top-end fashion, travel and luxury

goods advertising budgets really in that bad a shape? (Brown certainly

seems to think so, blaming Talk's demise on a sudden decline in

advertising revenues post-11 September.) To which the answers are: no;

probably; and not necessarily.



When Talk launched, a golden future looked assured. The combination of

Brown, plus the sprinkling of Hollywood magic dust courtesy of the

tie-up with Miramax, seemed unbeatable, a unique fusion of West Coast

celebrity and East Coast hipness that was so of its time. This was

August 1999, you recall, a period we can now see as the very zenith of

the dotcom boom. Of course Talk had nothing to do with the dotcoms, but

they infected the mood to the extent that even the most level-headed

individuals would take outlandish risks. As one economist dubbed it,

this was a time of "irrational exuberance" - a phrase which perfectly

sums up the zeitgeist. It was this "anything can happen" feeling that

probably caused many people to swallow their initial doubts about Talk,

perhaps even its backers.



Certainly I blame the mood of the time for an editorial proposition that

looked flawed from day one and which, in the end, may have been the root

cause of the title's closure. On the half-dozen times I read Talk from

cover to cover, I never felt less than irritated and disappointed by its

combination of high seriousness and low celebrity worship. It was as if

Hello! had suddenly decided it had to be serious too and bolted on long,

wordy features about the auteur theory of film-making. Even Talk's

coverage of celebrities was schizoid, with it seemingly unable to make

up its mind whether it was an upscale Vanity Fair or the more

mass-market People.



Perhaps none of this would have mattered if it hadn't been for the

collapse of the US advertising economy (a process well underway before

11 September), which meant that Talk's editorial flaws could no longer

be glossed over.



When the going gets tough, just as investors pile into gold and the US

dollar at times of economic turbulence, so advertisers flock to safe

havens of established titles with clear propositions.



And that's the simple lesson that Talk holds for publishers. It's got

nothing to do with celebrity publishing per se, Tina Brown or luxury

advertisers, and everything to do with having a clear proposition. And

if you want an example of a title that got it right with readers and

advertisers, arguably from a significantly less promising position in

terms of timing, look no further than Glamour.



- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.



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