Consumers, now responsible for two-thirds of gross domestic product, are sustaining the sputtering economic recovery. So encouraging shoppers to continue using their credit cards has become a goal of everyone from the White House to the House that Si Newhouse built, aka Conde Nast Publications.
In December 2000, Conde Nast launched Lucky, a shopping magazine for women modelled on a genre of Japanese fashion titles. Lucky is a buyer's guide resembling a road map for a shopping centre, or a catalogue published by an improbable consortium of retailers and apparel makers. Lucky "eschews traditional articles and layouts in favour of pages and pages devoted to sheer consumption", The Wall Street Journal reported, in recounting Conde Nast's Lucky strike, which confounded critics who warned that a magazine replacing an editorial viewpoint with a mandate of "telling readers what to wear and where they can buy it" would be laughed off news-stands.
Indeed, Lucky's circulation rocketed from 500,000 to 900,000, and it's on track to make a profit soon, ahead of schedule. It's no wonder everyone wants to transform shopping magazines from a curiosity into a category.
The designer Marc Ecko brought out Complex, for male hip-hoppers, half-lifestyle magazine, half-product guide. Hearst Magazines will launch Shop Etc. in August with a circulation of 400,000 and what its editor-in-chief told the Journal will be "a more grown-up audience". Conde Nast this month brought out Cargo, a men's fashion shopping magazine, labelled by the San Francisco Chronicle as "Lucky's cuter, older brother, maybe the boyfriend, maybe the best gay friend".
The slick, colourful 204-page premiere issue of Cargo, with a circulation guaranteed to advertisers of 300,000, carries a hefty 97 ad pages from marketers on all points of the selling spectrum, from the discount store chain Target to the middle-of-the-road car maker Toyota to the pricey leather goods purveyor Coach. (The front cover signals the democracy of dollars, showing a model in a $30 windbreaker from Urban Outfitters climbing into a $40,000 Lotus Elise.)
"Both Lucky and Cargo revel in product," Ariel Foxman, Cargo's editor-in-chief, told the Chronicle. So too will a second, more upscale, men's shopping magazine, Vitals, due in September from Fairchild Publications, which, like Conde Nast, is part of Advance Publications.
So too will a new Conde Nast magazine that James Truman, the editorial director, refers to as "a home-focused version of Lucky and Cargo". That one, planned for sometime in 2005, will be akin to having Martha Stewart help you buy linens, towels, sofas and other home furnishings - that is, if she's not in jail.
The nascent shopping magazine trend is already being mocked mercilessly.
Gawker.com, a snarky website for Manhattan media mavens, recently posted the results of a make-believe brainstorming session in Truman's office to rename Conde Nast. Among the entries on the fake shortlist are: "Shopping Whore & Co", "More Pictures, Less Words Inc." and, my favourite, "The Parisians Are Right: America Is a Nation of Ignorant Product-Hungry Fat People, Let's Run with That."
- Stuart Elliott is the advertising columnist at The New York Times.