Home Art & Culture The magazine business, from the coolest place to the coldest

The magazine business, from the coolest place to the coldest

by YAR

I miss magazines. It’s a strange pain, because they are still with us: peering from shelves in supermarket checkout lines; faintly fanned around the table in hotel lobbies; showing up in your mailbox long after you’ve unsubscribed, like an ex who refuses to accept the breakup.

But they are also disappearing. This accelerating erosion has not been big news during a time of pandemic, war, and real erosion, and yet the absence of journals authoritatively documenting such events, or distracting from them, as they used to do, is deeply felt. measured regularity.

Time advances, or limps, but Life is gone. There is no more money. The print editions of its former sister publications Entertainment Weekly and InStyle, which once turned a profit, stopped publication in February. It has been au revoir for Saveur and Marie Claire; shrouds for Playboy, Paper, and O. (As I write this, people are tweeting about The believer being bought by a sex toy site.)

Two recent books, “Dilettante,” by longtime Vanity Fair editor Dana Brown and a new biography of Anna Wintour by Amy Odell, formerly of cosmopolitan.com, are cemeteries of the dead or zombie titles that were once they were resplendent hives of human caprice. Gourmet. Daring Jane. Comprehension. Honey. Hippocrates. Petticoat. Might, founded by author Dave Eggers; Viva, where Wintour worked for a time with Bob Guccione’s girlfriend; and Loaded, a boys’ magazine from England that blew away young Dana Brown.

“There were so many magazines in 1994,” writes Brown. “So many new magazines, and so many great magazines All the young talent of the day was avoiding other industries and flocking to the business. It was the best place to be.”

Then suddenly the coldest. On the large luxury cruise ship Brown had just boarded, Vanity Fair, where Graydon Carter had invited him while working at Restaurant 44, he and many others could only see the tip of a huge iceberg they were on. to hit: Internet. Smartphones, monstrous little self-published magazines that won’t rest until their owners die, were on the horizon. These may have looked like life rafts, but they were torpedo boats.

Periodically, no pun intended, publishers put out a bunch of books on how to work for what was long ago called “the slicks.” (For example, there was a fat, outraged pile of revelations after William Shawn tiptoed away from The New Yorker.) Despite reliably wide review coverage (the media loves to self-examine), such books rarely make the best-seller list. Tackling blatant racism in the fashion business, André Leon Talley’s “The Chiffon Trenches” (2020) was a brief and brilliant exception. Talley died in January, and her memorial service at the end of April was another postcard from the glory days of magazine making, a fancier and seemingly more cohesive affair than the Met Gala that followed, with its ever-faster slideshows. crazy But the clicks are trampling the spots.

Wandering through a branch of the McNally Jackson bookstore not long ago, I looked up from my phone and saw a copy of Dan Peres’s “As Needed for Pain,” about his time at Details, the metrosexual glossy-turned-downtown bible that it closed in 2015. Originally published just a few months before Talley’s book, Peres’s memoir was on the open-air shelf for $1, possibly a fitting destination for a story of drug abuse and expense accounts. (Peres has recovered as an editor and associate editor for Ad Age.)

Brown further documents the noisy excesses of this era, the cutbacks that followed, and, more amusingly, the great quiet that followed a furious chase from “buzz” and even a short-lived, high-profile rival magazine called Talk. “The phones stopped ringing, the conversation stopped,” he writes. “The office was being invaded by rows and rows of silent 20-somethings, wearing headsets, Invisaligned and Warby Parkered in bouncy balls, sipping water in tiny cubicles, typing away on their keyboards. The modern workplace was becoming a dystopian, Dickensian, Gilliam-style nursery school for adults.”

There had been so much snappy dialogue. But we have yet to see the hit book or TV show like “Mad Men,” which conveys the real excitement, glamor and urgency of the print magazine business, which, while it still exists, has morphed beyond recognition. and never will be again. as it was in its prime. Despite Odell’s diligent efforts to capture Wintour, and Gerri Hirshey’s complete biography of Helen Gurley Brown, “Not Pretty Enough,” and Grace Mirabella’s memoir, we’re still waiting for the definitive account of the magazine queens. , of the power and influence of this brotherhood.

Seventeen magazine “was just my dream,” Wintour is quoted in Odell’s book. “I couldn’t wait for it to come every month.” My mom called the big back-to-school edition of Seventeen “a bunch of crap” and threw it away while I was at summer camp. Years later, still smarting from the loss of this knowledgeable older sister, I searched eBay for a copy of the same issue.

That it was a piece of junk. But just as Esquire ran Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe between booze ads and cheesecake photos, Seventeen paid to print short stories by Sylvia Plath and Anne Tyler between hope chests and Maybelline ads. Plath worked a summer for Mademoiselle, taking advantage of her experience there in “The Bell Jar”. (For a beautiful account specific to this era, I recommend “Pain, Parties, Work” by Elizabeth Winder.) Joan Didion developed her compact style by writing captions for Vogue. It was where she learned “a way of seeing words not as mirrors of my own inadequacy, but as tools, toys, weapons to strategically deploy on a page.”

Young readers graduated from Seventeen, YM, Sassy and the like to the forbidden generosity on the low coffee tables of the divorced: Cosmo and Glamor and Self. “My favorite title of any magazine,” author Michael Chabon told me about Self in an interview decades later. He was kidding. But those publications helped and shaped many young women, just as much as Chabon comics and their male leads in “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” did. Instagram is not the same; there’s no surrogate aunt in charge, and a “story” is just an endless series of goofy video clips.

Every year the American Society of Magazine Editors gives out a beautiful award, a brutal-looking elephant named Ellie, inspired by an elephant sculpture by Alexander Calder. Any writer would be proud to have it on the mantelpiece. (Certainly more presentable than the Webby for online work, which is unnervingly shaped like a spring.) Researching the origins of the elephant, I found another award called Ellies, which honors companies in the North American escalator and elevator industry.

This is the kind of factoid that the internet can reliably deliver in a matter of seconds, and yet the joy of discovering such things has been completely lost.

The history of modern American literature is interwoven with its magazines. The future can feel like a bunch of loose threads, flapping in the wind.

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