Finding common ground between 'Lucky,' 'The Atlantic'

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At first blush, our selections, elsewhere in this issue, of Conde Nast Publications' Lucky as Magazine of the Year and The Atlantic Monthly's Cullen Murphy as Editor of the Year, might appear contradictory.

The former is a magazine that runs as few paragraphs as possible; the latter one where articles "find their own lengths" (as one editor so deliciously describes it). The photos that accompany our profiles reinforce the divide: Murphy is pictured in his book-lined Boston office looking every inch the tweedy Harvard professor, while the oh-so-fashionable editor and publisher of Lucky stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a shoe-lined closet.

I prefer to think of the choices not as contradictory, but as complimentary, a recognition of the vast spread of interests explored, and audiences served, by magazines. There are media snobs who insist that magazines exist on a higher plane. They tend to decry the rise of glossies such as Real Simple and Maxim as signposts-to quote a critic in our Lucky article-of the "soul death" of American culture. No such burdens are placed on TV; the hundreds of channels available on most cable systems run from the highbrow to the decidedly low, from Discovery to Spike TV, History Channel to USA Network. If you don't like them, you simply don't watch them. Their right to channel space is not disputed.

Lucky's editorial content doesn't appeal to me. Nor is it meant to. The editor doesn't want or need me as a reader (in the consumer sense; professionally, she does). But I recognize and respect the magazine's ability to attract an audience-circulation is approaching 1 million-and an advertising base.

There's no reason for even a media snob to begrudge magazines such as Lucky their success. Their growth doesn't come at the expense of thought-leader titles; the Atlantic and The New Yorker are doing quite well on their own, thank you.

You also have to admire Lucky's honesty. It doesn't pretend to be something it's not, filling pages between its fashion spreads with health articles. Nor is it self-conscious about what it is. It's a magazine about shopping. Period. Like Us Weekly under Bonnie Fuller (and, now, Janice Min), Lucky proudly presents its offerings and encourages readers to whip the magazine out on the train rather than treating it as a guilty bedroom pleasure. It's the reason such titles can attract upscale audiences, women who read The Wall Street Journal on weekdays and make time for the Star on Saturdays.

The successful launch of Lucky is also a noteworthy accomplishment in a hostile economic environment, proof that timing isn't an issue if the idea is right. G.D. Crain Jr. introduced Advertising Age at the start of the Great Depression and things worked out for us. Conde Nast Chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. has similarly shown a willingness to invest in ideas he believes in regardless of the economic climate. Allure ignored a war and advertising recession to make its debut in February 1991; at the time, it was the first from-scratch Conde Nast startup in a dozen years.

"I don't think there's ever a right time to launch," Newhouse told me in an interview days before the launch of Allure. "We have an idea, we have the people to execute the idea, we have a magazine that's ready and we can't sit around and wait for a time that might or might not be favorable.

"Any launch," he continued, reflecting the long-term view owners of privately held companies have the luxury to hold, "represents a significant investment in the future, in an idea, in establishing a position."

Lucky thing for the magazine business that he feels that way.

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