Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grazia - but for what exactly?

And so to Grazia. A magazine on which I’ve had quite a few thoughts since its $7million launch in July - which included a God-awful radio advertisement which had evidently been designed by some beer-swilling ad neanderthal. I have resisted blogging on it until now. But here’s what I said to one or two friends after I’d seen the first issue: I give it six months. Today comes word that 150 jobs at Grazia’s parent company PBL may be under review, with Grazia’s future uncertain.

We are all obviously living in very uncertain times at the moment, some having a harder time of it than others. PBL is not the first, and nor undoubtedly will it be the last, Australian media outlet to wield the razor.

July was an extremely awkward time to be launching any new magazine in Australia, notably a women’s magazine, with circulations of some titles experiencing double digit nosedives.

But beyond the difficult business environment and low consumer confidence, I couldn’t help thinking that Grazia may have been doomed from the get go.

To begin with, it had Kate Moss on the launch cover.

Moss might still be newsworthy in many ways but she’s really yesterday’s story and if that’s your grand opening statement, it doesn’t augur well.

Secondly, I grew very quickly tired of seeing the word “exclusive” slapped on stories which did not seem to bear any resemblance to scoops.

I bought and flicked through the first issue, telling myself that I shouldn’t be too hard on the Grazia team.

After all, some, if not many, staff members seemed to be new to the fiercely competitive weekly gossip/news game and while I certainly would not describe editor Alison Veness McGourty as a friend, I like her as a person. And everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves.

Unfortunately while I did buy several other copies, and regularly check the website, Grazia failed to compel me with its content. To the point where I found the weekly contents precis done by Erica Bartle over at the Girl With A Satchel blog far more interesting than the magazine itself – and of course Bartle doesn’t charge $5 per edition. Bartle mentioned at one stage that 36 salaries went into making Grazia. It seemed like a hell of a lot of resources.

Sadly the other copies are still sitting largely unread in my car. I don't have much time to spare and, with few exceptions, I tend to find that if something does not pop up via my phone, BlackBerry, news alerts or Google Reader, then it probably isn't worth knowing. And I know I'm not alone in that respect.

The minute the international SS09 collections launched, I assumed Grazia might come into its own.

It had the staff, it had the resources and what’s more it also had the website, with a half dozen blogs at its disposal.

Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem to have any urgency.

Like, it took days before Grazia staffers trundled back into work to bundy on after that New York Fashion Week opening weekend and upload images which they essentially get for nix via their substantial network of international affiliates.

Meanwhile, the fashion-obsessed public was logging onto a myriad blogs and web forums, including this one, as well as photo agency outlets, the nanosecond every show wrapped. Just to get close to the news.

I heard that Veness-McGourty would be going to the shows. I'm still uncertain if her trip was just to Milan. But frankly, even if it was, I think that's an inexcusable indulgence for the editor of a brand new weekly magazine. Especially one who is under the budget gun.

One day, as reported by the magazine's fashion director Mark Vassallo in one blog post, Veness-McGourty swanned around head-to-toe in Prada.

The Prada plug might have been fabulous for Grazia’s relationship with a potential future advertiser, but what’s the point of having advertisers if you don't have any readers? In one editor’s letter, Veness-McGourty noted that people keep telling her “We love Grazia!” They were probably the publicists.

The blogs consistently failed to update – or seemed to go live days after they were posted. I’ve been there, done that, two years ago, when virtually noone was blogging from the shows. Certainly no mainstream outlets. It’s just not good enough anymore.

As with the magazine, I simply stopped looking at the Grazia blog. It didn’t seem to be breaking any news or providing any unique content that you hadn't read somewhere else first and noone seemed to be talking about it in any of the forums I regularly peruse.

Today’s Telegraph story claims:

“The practice of paying six-figure sums for exclusive stories and pictures has ended, with cut-price rates being offered for commissioned articles”.

I'd be curious to know precisely which stories and images that have been published by the Australian edition of Grazia in fact came with "six figure" price tags. Material that was commissioned by, and syndicated from, the international editions of the magazine? If you were paying six figures for material, you would expect some kind of world scoop. There were none as far as I could see.

I know of one local freelancer who offered the magazine what she described as a scoop, but was knocked back and told, “We don’t pay for stories” (and just to clarify, I have had zero contact with the magazine, so it wasn't me).

This may partially explain why it’s been so hard to find bylines on some Grazia stories - and leads one to assume that some material may have been simply cobbled together by staffers from material published elsewhere. It certainly read that way.

I know exactly how much it costs to cover the four big fashion cities on the ground because I have done it myself. On a minumum budget. The total cost for four weeks is less than half the budget that ACP sources tell me Harpers Bazaar has traditionally spent to send two people to just the Milan and Paris shows fortnight.

That may be OK for a monthly fashion glossy that is rolling in advertising money, and for which of course these show trips are essentially a schmoozfest for luxury advertisers - the majority of them located in Europe.

But it's not OK when times are tough and when you’re pumping out not a magazine a month, with the luxury of a three month lead time, but a magazine a week - and moreover, when you are not OK! and have but a tenuous grasp of the exact meaning of the word “news”.

Grazia's Australian edition appears to me to be asleep at the wheel. Their biggest problem is the fact that fashion never sleeps.


Anonymous said...

I believe that Grazia is a strong addition to the low-standard of Australian consumer magazines. That said, Grazia is not itself outstanding by any measure. If anything, it is an indication of Australian fashion media at this time.

While the fashion pages squeeze every advertiser and potential advertiser in, as well as the team's 'personal favourites' throughout, it fails to fulfil for the fact that it lacks any direction or style.

In regards to copy, a lot is to be desired. Vocabulary, for one. Perhaps product detail, as well. "Grazia thinks 'said product' is so Hot with a capital 'H' " has left me questioning the MANY editors' credibility to pass such judgement.

Patty Huntington said...

let's try and keep the personal insults out of this and focus on the issues to hand. the buck here does not start or stop with mark vassallo.

Anonymous said...

Patty is right anonymous #1, try and keep the personal insults out of it!!! After all its a team effort at the end of the day.
But I have to say your comment made our team laugh so hard in the office this morning!( hate to admit it Patty but it's kinda true)But we feel bad for Grazia though

Paul said...

I keep wondering who they imagine their audience to be. If you’re into gossip there’s a slew of titles that are way less wordy to choose from. Its fashion content is pretty full-on yet strangely insubstantial. They seemed to be obsessed with the “idea” of fashion – I call it “fashioniness” – but not its practice. I saw one story that was “inspired” by Anna Wintour at the American Open dressed entirely in YSL. I wondered what the hell would Sharon from the suburbs make of this on her train home? There’s no genuine news in the thing, so what’s it for? Patty, in this economic climate, your six months was very generous!

Amy said...

What Paul said is so true! I'm 29,I would say I have an average 9-5 job,my income is ok and I love fashion,I buy alot of designer clothes and invest in high-end designer handbags! but I just can't relate to what Grazia is trying to sell me each week! The fashion spread is great but the price point of the items are out of this world! There are hardly any balance of anything within a reasonable price point that they are showing! It might aswell be Paris Vogue??!!
Who is in charge of fashion? Give me something the everyday girl can work with..please. I dont mind seeing highend fashion but I also need something that I can go out and buy too!
Most of the "exclusive" you can read item on anyway.

Anonymous said...

You know you are beginning to be successful when the jealousy and bitching begins..........I would have liked to have seen a little more substance to Patty's arguments. Surely with her blogging and internet prowess she could have come up with some circulation demographics, costs, head counts etc for competitor magazines........and even a diatribe on Grazia's position internationally.

Maybe the poor cherub hasn't quite got her head around what Grazia aims to be......not what she wants from it. I certainly won't change my subscription from the AFR to Grazia, but alas I am not the target market.

Patty Huntington said...

last anon -

you are of course entitled to your opinion. i feel the need to point out however that playing the 'jealousy' card in any debate is often just a strategy to discredit critics, and deflect attention from the possibility that they may in fact have some valid points to make. ditto your attempt to trivialise what is nothing more than an off-the-cuff opinion piece. not a structured market analysis. if grazia does go down, then that is precisely what i will be providing a client such as WWD which of course pays me for the time i spend researching stories. i put as much effort into the blog as i can but at the end of the day journalism is how i earn a living and it takes me away from paid work. i've already given away enough news stories over the past three months on this blog, which were immediately picked up by salaried employees of mainstream outlets.

the condescending tone of your comment also strongly suggests to me that you have more than a casual interest in this discussion.

last but not least, grazia has been going for just three months. there is no independent available audit for its circulation figures. PBL suits would of course be privy to early circulation data. and by all accounts, they're blanching at it.

Anonymous said...

Well said Patty, I like your style :)

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand your headline on this piece. Grazia - but for what exactly? Do you think Grazia means thank you? Surely you are aware it means Grace. In which case your headline doesn't make sense.

Patty Huntington said...

it also means pardon

On Track said...

Personally I am not a fan of the mag, I bought the first one then never went back for more

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