The funny thing about the holiday season this year (besides the unreported death of Santa) is that Americans no longer have any money to buy expensive presents for each other—but magazines are plunging ahead with their year-end holiday gift guides as if everything was fine and dandy! Okay, that's not really "funny." Nor is it tragic, because hey, if these magazines want to walk themselves off a cliff, that's their business. It's ominous. What the hell does the future hold for luxury magazines in a world where those cutesy "Gifts Under $100" are a necessity, not a niche?
For the truly broke, how about Ladies Home Journal's thrifty gift guide suggestion of "a cold and sinus soak." Help your loved ones maintain their holiday sinus health in anticipation of a new year filled with no health insurance! .
Everything is either outrageous or depressing. What we're oh-so-subtly getting at is the fact that magazines that have always existed for the sole purpose of pimping too-expensive items out to an aspiration audience have not even begun to change their editorial mission in response to our new, dead economy. And we're talking about a lot of magazines. Everything from Vogue to Real Simple. Any magazine based on telling people what to buy is now facing a world where the old business plan won't necessarily work; but none of them, as far as we can tell, have a great backup plan to save themselves.
It's like any rich person forced to downgrade their own lifestyle: it's hard on the ego. The same goes for magazines. Many will cling to the fading idea of their own place in the luxury hierarchy rather than start chasing after lower-class dollars. In this version of the economy, there should only be about a third as many "luxury," acquisitive titles as there were two years ago, during the boom times. The remaining two thirds can either do the smart thing and recast themselves immediately as friends to the plebes; or they can fight for the few luxury dollars left, and probably go bankrupt in the process.