The Fall of the Almost-Rich

New York magazine, the bible of an entire class of affluent aspirationals, has already cut its masthead; now, it's instituting widespread pay cuts. In the "All New"economy, its audience is fading away.

This is more than just the average, economic meltdown-induced spate of magazine cutbacks. Because New York magazine lives in its own, aspirational economy. Its readers are upwardly mobile, upper-middle class city types who feel like they could make it over the hump into official "Rich" territory if they could jussssst furnish their apartment with the proper designer doorknobs and boutique comforters and dine at the proper, overpriced new foodie establishments and occasionally foray into Bushwick for an avante-garde art show which would make for a scintillating story at their next dinner party, populated by others like them, who they hope to make jealous, thereby spurring an ever-escalating cycle of tasteful capitalist one-upmanship. The reason that New York is so quietly infuriating was best put into words by John Cook in a masterful 2007 hit piece in Radar. The magazine is just as bloodless as the audience it leads:

New York's most egregious sin is that it's aimed at such a narrow sliver of the city. It's become the bible of the ultra-entitled New Yorker, the kind of person who would actually spend $200 on a doorknob described in the magazine as a bargain. The Plate-U coffee table featured in the Strategist a few weeks ago, described with words "thriftiness can be elegant," can be had for $1,800, or the balance of a month's salary after taxes for a family that earns New York's median household income of $43,393. There's nothing wrong, of course, with pitching a magazine at ludicrously wealthy people desperately trying to fill the holes in their lives with grapefruit-and-vodka-pedicures. But New York is, after all, a city and not a colony of hedge-fund managers.

In 2007, this was just an observational lament. Today, it's a fun look at just how screwed New York's entire philosophy is. All that disposable income that fueled the magazine's most dedicated fans—not the truly rich, but those who felt that they could buy their way into that category through PRECISELY TARGETED PURCHASING. Always buying into the Cultural Moment was the key, and nobody could guide them down that treacherous commercial road better than New York. In the years between the start of the post-tech bubble resurgence and last fall's collapse of everything, Adam Moss and New York were the road signs leading a certain set of New Yorkers from juvenile Sex and the City lifestyle fantasies to a promised land of a tastefully wealthy playpen called Manhattan.

That's all dead, of course, and now New York has to figure out what to do. The magazine is privately held, and has been extraordinarily quiet about the cuts it's had to make so far. We hear the newest pay cuts were as much as 15%—higher cuts for those who were higher paid. No more 401k contributions either, we hear. New York can't continue on preaching the path to true wealth if it can't even get its own staffers there.

And the actually rich? They'll be fine. $450 meals at Masa are still selling at a healthy clip. It's just the upwardly mobile that need to worry. Say hello to a place you never wanted to find yourself: the middle class.