The American Magazine Vanguard Awards

Presenting the First AMVA's, Recognizing Magazines That Are Innovating Smartly Beyond Print

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In the spring, around the time the American Society of Magazine Editors announced the nominees for the National Magazine Awards, I had yet another discussion with publishing-world colleagues about what an NMA is good for.

The answer, I hate to say, is not much.

Over the years I've had a hand in a few -- I've been on staff at glossy magazines that have won them, and I've edited NMA winners and nominees -- and I always found that, beyond a momentary ego boost for a day or two (after which the next looming deadline extinguishes any pleasure), an NMA is no game-changer. In fact, as I've noted in this column, plenty of magazines have struggled -- even folded -- in the wake of winning one of the "Oscars of the magazine industry." NMA's, in other words, may recognize good work, but they don't necessarily correlate with reader interest or a magazine's overall vitality.

Given that this column appears in a publication that gives out a quasi award to magazines -- the annual A-List -- which actually does, demonstrably, have impact (an A-List designation is closely watched by marketers and influences ad-buying decisions), I thought about what's worth recognizing. The A-List honors magazines that are doing strikingly well both on the business and editorial fronts -- a measure of both hard numbers and "buzz." To supplement the list, this spring I announced the rather informal launch of the American Magazine Vanguard Awards (AMVA's). The idea was to recognize both big and small innovators: Magazines that are taking new, smart, necessary risks in extending their franchises off the page. Call it brand extension or call it finding new ways to connect with audiences. The way I think of an AMVA: It's a "thank you" to magazine-industry leaders who are passionate enough about their editorial mission to think beyond print.

(The entry rules: Anyone -- an editor, publisher, reader, etc. -- could nominate any magazine they thought was doing something truly noteworthy off-page that brought vitality and relevance to the brand. The entry form was, simply, an e-mail to me.)

And the five winners of the inaugural 2008 AMVA's are ...


TOKION

Tokion cover
Tokion, a brilliant international art/street-culture magazine with offices in New York and Tokyo, has been publishing since 1996. For the past five years it's held the Creativity Now Conference in New York -- and this year expanded it for the first time to Stockholm. Much as Vanity Fair's signature event -- its Oscar party -- has cemented that magazine's status as a major player in Establishment Hollywood, Tokion's Creativity Now Conference underscores its role as a major enabler of anti-establishment creativity.

Over the years, filmmakers (including Harmony Korine and Lynne Ramsay), musicians (Brian Eno, Kim Gordon, Matmos), designers (Proenza Schouler), comedians (David Cross, Zach Galifianakis) and artists (Nan Goldin, Peter Saville) have gathered to talk about their work to sellout audiences of 2,000 ticket buyers who paid $45 a day (or $75 for both days) for the privilege. The conference sessions are often riveting, invariably inspiring, and they've no doubt sparked cross-disciplinary thinking and collaborations.


MAKE MAGAZINE

Make cover
Make is for nerds and dorks -- nerds and dorks who are proudly nerdy and dorky. The editorial mission is to "celebrate your right to tweak, hack and bend any technology to your own will." Published quarterly since 2005 by O'Reilly Media, it's tapped into the powerful DIY movement that has millions of consumers rewiring their own realities by making their own media (with tools ranging from iMovie to YouTube to GarageBand to Blogger to Facebook) -- only Make's not afraid of throwing a soldering iron or a little duct tape into the mix. It's about tangible creations -- and good old-fashioned American ingenuity.

Make earns an AMVA because of its remarkable Maker Faire, a cult event that has been growing almost mainstream. The first fair, held in 2006 in San Mateo, drew 22,000 attendees -- people interested in everything from growing their own food to building hybrid vehicles. In 2007, 45,000 showed up; this spring, 65,000. A second edition of the event started up in Austin, Texas, drawing 20,000 attendees; the second two-day Maker Faire Austin kicks off this month on the 18th. (Watch for Make to expand its fair to other cities in 2009.) Considering that some of the greatest leaps forward in American technological history have been scrappy homebrews (Apple Computer was a literal garage start-up), it's really kind of exciting to think that, given its explosive growth, the Maker Faire might well help along an invention or two that's truly important.


ESSENCE

Essence cover
The venerable magazine for African-American women has a great tradition of brand extensions, but lately it's been on a major roll, with essence.com serving as a programming incubator for sister companies Warner Bros. Telepictures (wow, actual synergy!) and CNN (which aired "Black in America," in conjunction with Essence, in July), books (Essence Presents: The Black Women's Guide to Healthy Living, out next year), the inaugural Essence Young Women's Leadership Conference (in D.C. and Atlanta next month), the Essence Annual Literary Awards, and -- this is what clinches the AMVA -- the more-awesome-than-ever multicity Essence Music Festival, which drew a record 270,000 attendees this year. And the newly released "Essence Music Festival, Volume 1" compilation, drawn from the 2007 festival in New Orleans -- with powerhouse performances by Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Chris Brown and 10 other artists -- kicks off the magazine's stellar CD and DVD series.


GOLF DIGEST

Golf Digest cover
A nearly 60-year-old golf magazine at the "vanguard"? Yep. It scores an AMVA this year for its Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge. As the magazine explains it, "Last year at the U.S. Open, Tiger Woods said no average golfer could break 100 on a U.S. Open Course because the conditions are so tough." The editors asked themselves, "What would it be like if we got an amateur out on the course within a few days of the U.S. Open to see how he or she plays?" After the contest was announced, some 56,374 people submitted entry essays, 117,331 people voted for the winner (from a list of five editor-selected finalists), major sponsors (Rolex, Lexus, American Express and AT&T) came on board to back a brand-new TV special -- and the special itself, also called "Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge," with guest golfers Matt Lauer, Tony Romo and Justin Timberlake, scored a 2.4 rating -- outpulling the Friday round of the actual U.S. Open.


VICE

Vice cover
Regular readers of the Media Guy column know that I'm a longtime fan of Vice, the rowdy, raunchy, frequently hilarious street-culture magazine founded in Montreal in 1996 and headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. I was reminded of the enduring success of the Vice sensibility when I was in Osaka recently and picked up the Japanese edition of Vice -- and then noticed the endless list of international editions (it's published in 22 countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the U.K. ...). It's expanded into book publishing, music (Vice Records, home of some of my favorite artists, including brilliant British rapper-storyteller The Streets) and retail fashion. But the reason for its AMVA is the remarkable growth of VBS.tv, an online network with an astonishingly varied slate of current-affairs-oriented programming, from wry series to dead-serious multipart documentaries (Viacom liked VBS.tv so much, it invested in it as a kind of online-video incubator). I'm especially pleased to note that the riveting, heartbreaking VBS.tv serial documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" (about an Iraqi heavy-metal band), which I've previously praised, was released this year as a feature-length film that drew raves at festivals around the world, had an art-house run and has just been released on DVD.


One final note: Two magazines -- Elle and Fast Company -- were on my AMVA short list for their extraordinary brand-extension efforts, but since they landed on the A-List, I ruled against them double-dipping at the awards trough.
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