Living

Turning a page in the women's-magazine market

See Jane die.

It was hardly a storybook ending, but after 10 years and countless tongue-in-cheek articles and snarky celebrity interviews, Jane magazine is done.

Women's magazines come and go, but Jane's death, announced in July, raises the question:

Are women's magazines obsolete?

On a glossy playing field crowded with tomes for shopping (Lucky), home life (Real Simple) and Hollywood trends (InStyle), there seems to be little need for general-interest publications hawking fashion updates, beauty tips and diet advice.

Factor in celeb rags such as US Weekly and People dishing on fashion and beauty products, too. Who needs to crack another issue of Glamour or Allure?

Certainly Jane, named after founding editor Jane Pratt, tried to be different.

Pratt, who in the late 1980s founded the revered but short-lived teen magazine Sassy, targeted single 20-somethings with articles on naked yoga and polygamist housewives, a yen for affordable fashion and celebrity interviews not afraid to take a swipe at the interviewee. (Diva-esque Faith Hill, for example, never stood a chance.)

Although current Jane editor Brandon Holley has yet to comment on the magazine's closure, publisher Carlos Lamadrid claimed to be surprised by parent company Conde Naste's decision.

"I don't really know (why it folded Jane)," Lamadrid told the New York Times in July. "We had been given a number for ad sales, and we were actually performing to that number."

But while Jane prided itself as an edgy alternative to more conventional fare such as Glamour, Allure and Cosmopolitan, many experts believe it suffered from an identity crisis: Too edgy for the mainstream - but too safe for savvy hipster tastes.

"A lot of readers were in the dark about Jane," says Andi Zeisler, editorial director for Bitch, a Portland-based feminist pop culture magazine. "It existed in a black hole between being alternative and mainstream."

Although Jane did a "valiant job" of trying to offer left-of-center content, Zeisler says, it also "coasted along on people's assumptions" that they were different.

After Pratt's 2005 departure, she adds, the magazine turned decidedly more vanilla.

"Toward the end, Jane wasn't providing much of an alternative," she says. "They started putting more commercially friendly faces on the cover such as Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne - people whom the original Jane (staffers) would have made merciless fun of before."

Of course, Jane's always been Hollywood-friendly - its debut issue featured Pratt pal Drew Barrymore on its cover.

Ironically, Zeisler adds, such star power may be what ultimately contributed to Jane's demise.

"That's what actually turned me off to Jane - that they were so celebrity-focused even before it was absolutely mandatory for every magazine to have a celebrity on its cover," she says.

Now, with magazines such as Us Weekly, People and InStyle mixing Hollywood and fashion news, conventional women's magazines seem almost quaint.

Ironically, "Jane contributed to the shift that we've seen in the last 10 years," Zeisler says.

It also didn't help, she adds, that advertisers viewed Jane as a demographic nightmare.

"The editors ran a lot of articles that assumed their readers were broke - you've got to guess that was a big turnoff to advertisers," Zeisler says.

Lauren Pozner, executive director for Women In Media, a Brooklyn, N.Y.,-based media analysis and advocacy group, agrees Jane had difficulty selling itself to fickle advertisers.

The problem wasn't readership, Pozner says, but cold, hard profits.

The publication's ad revenue, which peaked at $46 million in 2004, was down to an estimated $40 million in 2006. Its circulation was at 700,000 - down from a 2004 high of 740,000.

"There were a large number of readers who really did value that magazine," she says. "(But) the whole media landscape is making it difficult for magazines to survive (due to) an ever-increasing demand for higher profit margins."

Jane's not the only victim, Pozner adds. No women's mag is immune to the push toward bigger payoffs.

"Magazines didn't used to need to make huge profits on the stock market (to survive)," Pozner says. "Now, it's considered a product just like soda or sneakers or oil."

Shopping-centric mags such as Lucky and Domino also have changed the way the medium is doing business, Zeisler says.

"Lucky really changed the whole editorial focus of magazines," Zeisler says. "Now it's about instant gratification and turning women's magazines into catalogs."

Still, some critics say, Jane was forced to cash out when it didn't cash in on the online revolution. And, if they don't act soon, other women's magazines may follow suit.

"The magazine format is passe," says Patricia Handschiegel, founder of a StyleDiary.net, a Web-only fashion and beauty magazine. "Editors need to understand that people take in their information differently now."

Readers want to be engaged, Handschiegel says, on the phone from her Los Angeles office.

"There's been a huge user migration to the Web - people aren't just using the Net as a source of information but also as a form of entertainment," she says.

And, be it chat rooms, videos or comments features, Handschiegel says, "community is a big part of that experience."

Which brings us back to the question: If the women's magazine model is outdated, are women's magazines, too?

Even Pratt, now working for Sirius radio and with a rumored new magazine in the works, thinks the format is in trouble.

"It's understandable for me that someone would go to the newsstand and look at Glamour and look at Jane and think there's not a noticeable difference between them," Pratt told Mediaweek.com in a recent interview. "It's possible there's not room. ... It's possible there isn't as much as a need for (women's magazines)."

Not so fast, Pozner says.

"There is absolutely still a need for women's magazines," she says. "Magazines like Glamour and Allure and Marie Claire occasionally run strong content about international affairs, health issues and equal pay - the problem with the model is that those articles are wedged between ads for `thinner thighs in 10 days.'"

But while the traditional women's magazine may not be in immediate danger of dying off, Jane's absence will be noticed.

Dani Kando-Kaiser, for one, will miss the magazine's smart, offbeat style exemplified in features such as "The Boobs Blog" - an online photo gallery of, yes, readers' breasts.

"How wonderful is that?" asks the 33-year-old Sacramento mother of two. "It was the exact opposite of something you'd see in Cosmopolitan.

"Most women's magazines just make readers feel bad about themselves," Kando-Kaiser says. "Jane was the opposite of that. It offered a message of acceptance."

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