The magazine industry, from the coolest place to the coldest

I miss leaves. It’s a strange pain, for they are still in a way with us: staring out from the racks at the supermarket checkout; waved faintly around the table in the hotel lobbies; shows up in your mailbox long after the subscription was terminated, as an ex who refuses to accept the breach.

But they also disappear. This accelerating erosion has not been big news in a time of pandemic, war, and actual erosion, and yet the absence of magazines authoritatively documenting such events, or distracting from them, as they used to do with measured regularity, is felt.

Time goes on or limps, but life is gone. There is no more money. The print editions of their previous sister publications Entertainment Weekly and InStyle, which once frothed with profits, stopped the release in February. It has been au revoir for Saveur and Marie Claire; wrapped to Playboy, Paper and O. (As I write this, people are tweeting about The believer is bought of a sex toy site.)

Two recent books – “Dilettante” by Dana Brown, longtime editor of Vanity Fair, and a new biography of Anna Wintour by Amy Odell, formerly cosmopolitan.com – are cemeteries for the dead or zombie titles that were once glowing hives of human whimsy. Gourmet. Jane. Naughty. Experienced. Honey. Hippocrates. Underdress. Might, founded by author Dave Eggers; Viva, where Wintour worked under Bob Guccione’s girlfriend; and Loaded, a lad magazine from England that blew young Dana Brown’s minds.

“There were so many magazines in 1994,” Brown writes. “So many new magazines, and so many store magazines. All the young talents currently avoided other industries and flocked to the business. It was the coolest place to be. ”

Then suddenly the coldest. On the big fancy cruise ship that Brown had just boarded – the Vanity Fair, where he had been waved by Graydon Carter while he was a barback at restaurant 44 – he and so many others at the time could only see the top of a huge iceberg, they were about. to hit: the internet. Smartphones, small self-edited monster magazines that will not rest until their owners die, were on the horizon. These may have looked like life rafts, but they were torpedo boats.

On a regular basis, without puns, publishers publish a lot of books about working for what was long ago called “slicks”. (There was, for example, a bold and indignant stack of narrators after William Shawn disappeared from The New Yorker.) Despite reliable broad review coverage – the media loves to investigate itself – such books rarely reach the bestseller list. André Leon Talley’s “The Chiffon Trenches” (2020), which addressed overt racism in the fashion industry, was a brief and luminous exception. Talley died in January, and his memorial service at the end of April was yet another postcard from the magazine’s heyday, a more elegant and cohesive affair than the Met gala that followed, with its increasingly crazy slideshow. But the clicks trample the licks.

Wandered past a branch of the bookstore McNally Jackson not so long ago, I looked up from my phone and saw a copy of Dan Peres’ “As Needed for Pain”, about his time at Details, the downtown bible became metrosexual blank, which was folded in 2015. Originally published just a few months before Talley’s book, Peres’ Memoirs was on the outdoor shelf for $ 1, arguably an appropriate fate for a story of drug and expense abuse. (Peres has joined as an editor and associate publisher of Ad Age.)

Brown further documents the noisy excesses of this era, the cuts that followed, and most amusingly the great silence that followed a furious chase for “hum” and even a short-lived, high-profile rival magazine called Talk. “Phones stopped ringing, conversation stopped,” he writes. “The office was overrun by rows and rows of silent, headphones, Invisaligned and Warby Parkered thieves-something on bouncy balls, slurping nonsense in tiny cubicles and knocking away on their keyboards. The modern workplace was becoming a dystopian, Dickensian, Gilliam-like adult kindergarten. “

There had been so much quick dialogue. But we still have the benefit of watching the hit book or TV show as “Mad Men”, which conveys the true excitement, glamor and urgent magazine business that, although it still exists, has turned into unrecognizability and will never again be as it was. in his prime. Despite Odell’s strenuous efforts to capture Wintour and Gerri Hirshey’s thorough biography of Helen Gurley Brown, “Not Pretty Enough” and Grace Mirabella’s memoirs, we are still awaiting the final account of magazine queens, the power and influence of this association.

Seventeen magazine “was just my dream,” Wintour is quoted as saying in Odell’s book. “I could not wait for it to come every month.” My mom called the big back-to-school issue of Seventeen “a pile of junk,” and threw it out while I was at summer camp. Years later, still in pain after the loss of this knowledgeable big sister, I found a copy of the same issue on eBay.

That was a bunch of rattles. But just as Esquire published Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe between the liquor ads and the cheesecake images, Seventeen paid to print short stories by Sylvia Plath and Anne Tyler between the ads for hope chests and Maybelline. Plath worked one summer for Mademoiselle and drew on his experience there in “The Bell Jar”. (For a pretty specific account of this time, I recommend Elizabeth Winder’s “Pain, Parties, Work.”) Joan Didion developed her compact writing style for Vogue. It was here that she learned “a way of looking at words not as mirrors of my own inadequacy, but as tools, toys, weapons to be strategically placed on one side.”

Young readers graduated from Seventeen, YM, Sassy and such one to the forbidden bounty on the divorced persons’ low coffee tables: Cosmo and Glamor and Self. “My favorite title on any magazine,” author Michael Chabon said of Self to me in an interview decades later. He was making fun. But these releases helped and shaped many young women, just as much as comics did Chabon and his male protagonists in “The Amazing Adventures of Cavaliers & Clay.” Instagram is not the same; there is no surrogate aunt in charge and there is a “story” just an incessant series of silly video clips.

Each year, the American Society of Magazine Editors awards a beautiful prize, a brutalist-looking elephant named Ellie, modeled after an Alexander Calder elephant sculpture. Any writer would be proud to have it on the mantelpiece. (Probably more presentable than Webby for online work, which is confusingly shaped like a spring.) While researching the elephant’s origins, I came across 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 is completely lost.

The history of modern American literature is intertwined with its magazines. The future can feel like many loose threads waving in the wind.

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