Apologies for the lack of posting. I was up getting my mind blown in the usual ways up at Web of Change, and then had to hop on a plane for points east. I’ve got a couple of long posts on a low parboil in my lizard brain, but in the meantime, here’s an odd ad from last Wednesday’s edition of the Vancouver Sun.
A magalog is a promotional copy of a magazine, usually in a 12-page catalog format. The name is a portmanteau of “magazine” and “catalog”. Magalogs help introduce magazines to new readers. It can also help existing readers see new or upcoming changes, additions, or improvements to the magazine. An alternate use can include catalogs that are presented with content, not just advertising.
So it’s a catalog masquerading as a magazine? Ironically, I didn’t even look at La-Z-Boy’s publication, because it was in the centre of the paper with all the instantly-discardable paper spam.
In any case, I learned a new, rather ugly word. It would be better applied to, I don’t know, some kind of tropical beetle. As in, “Careful, there’s a big magalog by the fridge. Don’t step on it with your bare feet–they’ve got a spiny carapice”.
If I were the copywriter for La-Z-Boy, I’d reconsider using the term in an ad. It feels very much like insider jargon. But, then, maybe they gave the ad to the intern or something, because it surely came free with the, uh, magalog insert.
I make a practice of looking scornfully at the cover of Cosmopolitan and other magazines of its ilk in the line at the grocery store. It’s my job, after all, as a modern man.
In fairness, I also scorn Maxim. I used to read it when I was younger and stupider, but I’ve graduated to the slightly more sophisticated (and, frankly, gayer) Details and Esquire.
I was busy queuing and scorning the other day, clutching a package of tofu burgers, when I got curious about the language on the covers of these magazines. What are, in aggregate, the messages of Cosmo and Maxim?
So, I made some tag clouds. I typed up all the headlines on the covers of three years of Cosmo (2007 to 2010) and Maxim (for obscure reasons, 2005 to 2008), and generated tag clouds out of the results. Can you guess which is which (click for largeness)?
I tweaked the text to merge plurals with singulars, or vice versa, and to combine variations of words like ‘sex’, ‘sexy’ and ‘sexiest’.
Having looked at all those covers, I made some observations. First, about Cosmo:
In Cosmo, there are more headlines about sexual proficiency than anything else. These usually take the form of “please your man, and get yours, too”. For example, “Be a sex genius! These brilliantly naughty bad tricks will double his pleasure and yours”.
Nearly ever cover promises a story on sexual positions.
In the bottom right corner–the least important quadrant of the cover–there’s either a women’s health issue (“Critical new facts your gyno forgot to mention”) or a man problem story (“The silent way he shows he’s whipped”).
There are at least two numbers, and often more, on each cover. For example, “20 ways to make the good stuff in life even better” or “16 new and sexy hairstyles”. The most common number is 50.
The word ‘sex’ (or ‘sexy’) appears at least once on every cover. This is also almost always true for Maxim.
Celebrity profiles generally promise a story of how the celebrity rose to fame and secured a man. For example, “Anna Faris: The balls-out confidence that landed her the job and her hubby”.
There are many articles about decoding what men want but aren’t asking for.
Because I’m a nerd with screencast software, I created a short video that scrolls back and forth through the 36 covers I transcribed:
It really highlights the prominence of an article about sex in the upper left part of the cover, and the badge design element in the upper right. It’s also remarkable how precisely positioned each model’s head is. If you watch their eyes, they barely shift from cover to cover.
Maxim’s covers are a little more diverse than Cosmo’s, but there are consistent messages about acquiring money (“Filthy, stinking rich: cash so quick it’s like stealing” and plenty of attention paid to stuff, such as cars and gadgets.
Topics–women, cars, gadgets–are often described as ‘hot’.
The headlines about the women on the cover are pretty banal and generic, such as “Jennifer Love Hewitt:
America’s sexiest girl next door is back”.
Maxim also emphasizes partying, and party travel destinations.
There are relatively few headlines emphasizing health or improving one’s body. When there are, they’re related to another topic, such as “Wanna get hockey tough? Drop the gloves with our NHL enforcer”.
While the covers’ time period doesn’t overlap exactly, the only women featured on both magazine covers were Fergie, Kristen Bell and Jessica Simpson.
Do the clouds provide any great insights? Not really. They do emphasize just how essential the topic of sex is to both magazines. I was also surprised by how little body-related headlines there are on the covers. The cliche of “a sexier six-pack in seven days” is actually quite rare. What surprised you?
Bonus: Cosmo in the Seventies
Out of sheer curiousity, I dug up about a dozen Cosmo covers from the 1970s, and produced a tag cloud for them:
It’s interesting to see how much fiction was featured on the cover during this period. Heck, there was even a story by Joyce Carol Oates. You may also note the prominence of the term ‘husband’, a word which only appeared on modern Cosmo’s in the context of celebrity profiles. ‘Lovemaking’ is also pretty common–another term that’s gone out of fashion.
I was also surprised by just how risque the 1970s covers were. Consider this cover featuring Renee Russo, for example.
James sent along this great, long profile of the city from The Walrus magazine. It’s by Gary Stephen Ross, the current editor-in-chief of Vancouver magazine. He’s written an insightful, well-observed piece that’s neither cheer-leading nor bitter:
Amid the stereotypes, of course, obscured by them, Vancouverites live substantial, complicated, inaccessible lives. Newcomers say folks here are quick to engage you in a friendly chat but slow to invite you over for dinner. There may be a flaky, hippie vibe to the lineup at Trout Lake Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, but there is a seriousness of purpose as well, an act-on-it conviction that organic tomatoes from the Okanagan are in every way superior to industrial tomatoes from Mexico. Local initiatives to address the Downtown Eastside, too, are more than compulsory nods toward civic responsibility; they are attempts to ameliorate vexing problems before they ossify into permanence.
For anybody wanting to understand our city, this is a terrific place to start.
I’m at Web of Change, so updates are likely to be pretty intermittent this week. On my way up–I took the train for the first time from Victoria to Nanaimo–I read the latest issue of Wired magazine. In it, there’s a really fascinating article about the placebo effect, and how, remarkably, it’s increasing:
Why are inert pills suddenly overwhelming promising new drugs and established medicines alike? The reasons are only just beginning to be understood. A network of independent researchers is doggedly uncovering the inner workingsÃ¢â‚¬â€and potential therapeutic applicationsÃ¢â‚¬â€of the placebo effect. At the same time, drugmakers are realizing they need to fully understand the mechanisms behind it so they can design trials that differentiate more clearly between the beneficial effects of their products and the body’s innate ability to heal itself. A special task force of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health is seeking to stem the crisis by quietly undertaking one of the most ambitious data-sharing efforts in the history of the drug industry. After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom.
The article uses a term I hadn’t heard before: nocebo. Here’s an explanation:
Like any other internal network, the placebo response has limits. It can ease the discomfort of chemotherapy, but it won’t stop the growth of tumors. It also works in reverse to produce the placebo’s evil twin, the nocebo effect. For example, men taking a commonly prescribed prostate drug who were informed that the medication may cause sexual dysfunction were twice as likely to become impotent.
Playboy Enterprises Inc. disclosed in a Wednesday regulatory filing that upcoming cost-cutting measures will include eliminating 55 jobs at the Chicago publishing and entertainment concern.
In the Securities and Exchange Commission document, Playboy said that a plan to reduce annual costs by $10 million is being increased to $12 million “in light of current economic and media conditions.”
In fairness, there’s more to Playboy than a magazine, but the news got me thinking about the 55-year-old periodical. I don’t know that it’s in any serious trouble. According to Wikipedia, it’s got a circulation of 3 million, down from a high of 7.1 million in 1972. That’s still better than, say, Maxim (2.5 million), Esquire (700,000) or Details (500,000).
But let’s imagine that the magazine is struggling. I got to thinking about what radical action I’d undertake to right the ship. The first thing that occurred to me: get rid of the naked women.
“But,” says the VP of Marketing, “the naked women are our brand! They’re what differentiates us from Maxim et al!”
Nay, I say. Nudity stopped being a differentiator some time in the mid-nineties, when the web became a den of inequity and rife with porn. As any web surfer knows, there’s all forms of nudity to be found for free on the web, from the gentlest erotica to the weirdest fetish. The same is true for periodicals, obviously. There’s Hustler, obviously, but even mainstream magazines like Maxim are often exactly two exposed nipples away from precisely mimicking the images in Playboy.
So, I’m unconvinced that anybody really buys the magazine for the pictures anymore. They buy it for the fantastic essays, interviews and short fiction.
Personally, I’d feel still feel a little sheepish buying an issue of Playboy and a lot sheepish reading it on the bus. Maybe Playboy ought to drop the naked photos altogether, and focus on what really differentiates them from the herd?
No, this isn’t a peculiar, unfunny April Fool’s joke. Just an illustration of the bizarre connections this site sometimes draws.
Last fall I wrote an article about presentations. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by the editor-in-chief of GeoBusiness, a Czech magazine on “geospatial technologies”. He wanted to translate the article, and publish it in a future issue. Go nuts, I said.
Here it is. This also gives me a chance to try out Scribd. I’ve never used it before, but after some uploading issues, my user experience was happy and smooth: