Guest Publishing Blog - Joanna Cummings

By : PPA Communications

Our third feature from our talented guest publishing blogger, Joanna Cummings - Hitting the Target: The Journey of Women’s Magazines

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I have very strong feelings about certain women’s magazines. Not all of them; just those of the gaudy, body-shaming variety that continue to smack us in the face at the post office. Frankly, I think lots of them are dangerous, damaging and depressing – but there’s no denying their past success. I also get frustrated with magazines that try to be ‘all things to all women’, cramming disparate subjects together as a push for broader appeal. I can see why they exist in this form – with dropping circulation figures it’s understandable – but it’s too easy their brand identity to become diluted and several former heavyweights have now folded.

To be honest, ‘women’s magazines’ cover too much ground to be considered one genre. If I want to look at celebrity cellulite, I can (I don’t.). If I want to drool over glossy fashion editorials, I need only buy Harper’s Bazaar. Knitting? Got it. Posh interiors? Knock yourself out. Voyeuristic stories about death and sex in suburbia? £1.20 please. But the range still isn’t as diverse as it could be.

Thankfully, there is hope.

Take Riposte, the magazine I wish I’d created. Pegging itself as a ‘smart magazine for women’, this off-size little beauty doesn’t even have an image on the front; no dead-eyed airbrushed celebs, no sultry pouts, no outlandish claims about weight loss. The cover of Issue 3 lists enough European-sounding names to sound deliciously highbrow, and with each issue featuring “five ideas, four meetings, three features, two essays and one icon”, the premise itself is an intriguing one. With its high production values, punchy editorial, a unique proposition and welcome change from particular weekly publications, what’s not to love?

Lone Wolf is another gem; a cerebral fashion magazine that puts a philosophical spin on one of the most seemingly vapid industries. Its ethos: “to affect positive change in this world, we need to change what we idolise…fashion can be a medium through which we glamorize what’s most important in our lives.” It’s thoughtful, though-provoking and beautifully-written – even reading their article on the history of knickers made me feel more intelligent.

In the last few years, there have been a growing number of magazines targeted chiefly at women but focusing on subjects other than crash diets and boyfriends. The Gentlewoman’s first ever issue celebrated designer Phoebe Philo and her revolutionising of the Chloé fashion house. Frankie is aimed at “women (and men) looking for a magazine that’s as smart, funny…and curious as they are”. Oh Comely describes itself as a publication “where curious minds don’t think alike”; the goal of Betty is to ‘empower and unify women with a youthful state of mind and a nostalgic heart’. The gorgeous Lula presents a refreshingly anti-sexualised look at fashion but in stunning editorials.

While distinct in subject matter, they are part of the ongoing backlash (‘riposte’!) against traditional women’s magazines, and fill the gap well between these and feminist-focused titles like Bust or Bitch. What’s more, they don’t treat traditional ‘women’s subjects’ as mutually exclusive from brainier ones: they cover lipsticks and surrealist art in the same magazine. Or female astronauts and food. Or – and this is a genuine example from Lone Wolf – the link between fashion and nihilism. They are in such contrast to many women’s weekly mags it’s enough to make you wince.

This change is not only print-based. The multitude of online women’s magazines cover a variety of topics on the full spectrum of funny to furious. My Tights Won’t Stay Up is written by two women who “make an utter hash of eyeliner, trip over our own feet, make odd snorting sounds when we laugh and ladder our effing tights”, and makes you feel better that the sidebar of shame exists. Shameless is a perfect counterpoint to many teen magazines. My current favourite, Reductress, has article titles that mimic clickbait material perfectly, such as ‘I Lied to My Stylist about Loving My New Haircut and Now He’s Dead’ and ‘Is Your Cat Bikini Ready?’
I don’t think it’s an accident that all the editors of these publications are female, either. Anna Gough-Yates pointed out the importance of magazine staff embodying the qualities of their ideal reader, or at the very least understanding them. This was over a decade ago, but it’s still something seen today by more mainstream titles such as Woman’s Weekly or Vogue – each brand has been going for around 100 years, but both are bucking current trends and embracing digital and social media. Diane Kenwood and Alexandra Schulman know their readers, ensuring their offering is enhanced and their audience is growing. With any luck the clear vision of Riposte and Lone Wolf et al will help them find some success in the marketplace.

However it sounds, I’m not just pushing my own agenda here. I’m very happy that I can get a fashion fix and cutting-edge art reviews in the same publication, yes, but it goes beyond that. To my mind, this shows a genuine attempt to appeal to a more diverse audience with longer-form content and different business models – perhaps even the many women who don’t currently read magazines at all. With the last of the lads' mags being nudged out the Top 100, it’s a lesson worth learning: we should never be afraid to rethink the women’s magazine genre, re-engage with readers and bring something new to the table. Hearteningly, there’s obviously still a hunger for it.



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