NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Sunday newspaper is supposedly an American institution. As legend goes, we get up on Sunday morning, tousle the hair of our adorable kids/pets/cellmates, pour a strong cup o' joe, then spend the next three hours in a state of knowledge-sponging bliss. If anyone dares to interrupt us, we rudely shunt them aside, so transfixed are we by the glad tidings contained therein: ruminations from whichever movie star has a flick opening the following Friday, heated previews of the Country Music Association Awards and the gang warfare likely to accompany it, etc. To hear newspaper publishers tell it, the world never seems as alive as it does on Sunday morning.
I have no idea how they've managed to sustain this fiction for so long. Nobody I know has one hour to devote to the Sunday paper, much less three. People have lives, you know. And yet the darn things keep getting bigger and heavier, expanding in inverse proportion to the ad dollars coming their way. (A topical analogy! A delicious topical analogy!)
Given where I reside -- the bastion of liberal wonderment that is Manhattan's Upper West Side -- I risked life and limb in compiling material for this exercise, as local statutes prohibit the consumption of any newspaper besides the Times. If you're caught with a copy of the Post or Daily News tucked beneath your arm, there can be dire consequences. You risk being splattered with paint (if apprehended by local hoods clad in their Urban Outfitters finery) or receiving a $250 summons (if John Q. Law catches you first) -- that is, unless you can produce incontrovertible evidence that you subscribe to Atlantic Monthly. This is home. This is mean street.
It had been quite some time since I'd bothered with the Sunday New York Post. After donning Kevlar and a Groucho mustache to purchase a copy, I remembered why: the Sunday edition has always been the one seemingly thrown together on the cheap. Outside of the sports section (and kudos to the paper for resisting the urge to lure Alex Rodriguez with a fleet of beefy strippers during this dead period for N.Y. sports), there's little here of substance.
Page Six Magazine was supposed to change that, but a few issues into its evolution I'm still not sure what to make of it. The "magazine" has as much in common with the massively entertaining, agenda-laden column that spawned it as Men's Vogue does with Vogue. I'd argue that the misleading title does the Post's readers a disservice, as anyone looking for the patented Page Six dish won't find anything resembling it here.
Instead, Page Six Magazine serves up the same EZ-reading celebrity/lifestyle tripe usually found at the supermarket checkout counter. In the Nov. 4 issue, horoscopes, book blurbs, style spreads and puzzles (actual clue: "31 across: guitar man Clapton") supplement the handful of gauzy celeb features (sunny-happy visits with Kristin Chenoweth and Gordon Ramsay) and New York-accented trend pieces ("How much do you earn?"). It lacks panache and personality, two things the newspaper column has in spades.
Somebody's done a good job positioning the darn thing to the marketing community, though, as witnessed by the ads for Mercedes-Benz and Jordache (oooh, airbrushed nipples -- edgy!). Once marketers see the product, I suspect they'll back off. There might be an opportunity here for New York-area salons and bistros, but big beauty and fashion brands have little to gain.
As for the Sunday Times, I'm still a fan. The New York Times Magazine and its siblings, T The New York Times Style Magazine and the sporty Play, offer the highest-quality everything: words, pix, thoughts, you name it. The topical diversity remains borderline awe-inspiring: One week they hit you with a piece of the new and quite possibly bonkers conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the next they're flittering about with Serena Williams. There's not a lot I can add to the discussion, other than to suggest that the weekly ethics ("to flush or not to flush, that is the question") and word-nerd Safire ("torte: a noun AND a pastry") dispatches have outlived their utility.
From an advertising/marketing perspective, however, I wonder if the high-end marketers that populate its pages (Rolex, U.S. Trust, Level Vodka) are getting their money's worth. For one thing, the Times mags have gone free on the web. Also, the most involved readers -- the ones who spend two hours with the crossword puzzle -- likely aren't paying much attention to that "New York Family Fun" ad supplement. There's a lot of prestige associated with a presence in the Times magazines, but I suspect that companies are paying a premium for it.
In the end, my main question about magazine/supplement doohickeys like the Times mags and Page Six Magazine, especially in an advertising/marketing context, is this: Would anybody really give a hoot if they disappeared? Times readers could simply parse the other 18 pounds worth of Sunday material for opinions to claim as their own at cocktail parties, while Page Six Magazine devotees might turn to better-appointed fluff like In Touch Weekly. The deep-thought void would be filled easily enough.