Dead or alive, you cannot escape the reach of the gift guide, telling you in magazines, newspapers, and especially websites to spend, spend, spend your money on shiny, pretty things you can't afford. Why must they do this to you?
Whatever you're expecting to find around the tree or the menorah this season, expect a little less. A year after consumers first began grappling with the nation's economic turmoil, thrift has become a habit. The new frugality not only means fewer gifts, it means less costly ones, recycled ones and handmade and home-baked gifts. Penny-pinchers are giving greeting cards instead of presents, or presents without greeting cards. And nearly everyone is snipping someone from their list.
Not the least-trenchant observation one could make! Since, you know, the economy's still totally backasswards at press time. Funny, then, that New York Times—in the same paper/on the same digital weekend—dropped not one, but two T Magazine stories on Shit You Need To Buy For The Holidays, which, of course, goes without mentioning their awesomely helpful gift guide that was especially awesomely helpful if you found yourself in the predicament of having to buy gifts for Asian/Black/Latin-American people.
Why wouldn't they just publish a recession-friendly gift guide of interesting things they worked very hard to seek out? If the aim of a gift guide is to be servicey, why wouldn't they provide a service that others don't? And by "others" we mean, everyone. Like, everyone publishes gift guides. In fact, what the fuck are we doing prepping a gift guide?
Well. Funny you should ask. There are any number of reasons for gift guides and none of them involve being servicey. It's all about us, the writerpeople, and our publications, and our pockets that we want you to fill. And we do it by capitalizing on your greed, you greedy cocksucker. Here are the five things you need to know about gift guides:
1. They are failproof. People love to buy shit. Even more, people love to be told what to buy in any number of rubrics: Is it pretty? Is it functional? Is it new? Can it make some part of your life better? Is there status associated with it? Will it entertain me? What's the potential bringing this thing into my life has? Etc. And yeah, yeah: you knew all this. But don't forget, there're sites out there like Uncrate and Outblush and Acquire and SheFinds that are an unfiltered stream of this basic cornerstone of publishing: Shit For You To Buy. See Valet? I want (you) to buy (me) everything on there. Remember that old Maxim offshoot Stuff? When I was 13, I bought that motherfucker all the time, because it was full of Cool Shit I Wanted To Own. Of course, I never owned any of it. But I did buy a bunch of magazines. Then the internet came along and gave me places to read about all the cool things I want to buy. Get it? Publishing doesn't know when your birthday is, but when the holidays come along, we will shamelessly roll out list upon list of things you should buy because you're gonna read it, and you're gonna indulge your lust. Always. Every time. Without fail.
2. They give us a shitton of traffic. Advertisers know gift guides work because—as opposed to being advertising—it's us, the people, the brilliant scribes whose work you flip through the advertising to read, telling you to just buy shit. That's it. It's an inherent moneymaker. But online? Oh, baby. Each gift gets it's own page. If you're sly like fox/New York Magazine, you make, like, nine of 'em, and then you put six pages in each one, and to find out what Shit You Need To Buy is on the next page, you gotta click through. Click! Another impression, bitch. Nine gift guides, six pages each, that's...54 clicks, give or take, though I counted about 72 places I'd have to click to get through the entire thing. 72 clicks from one person going through an entire feature. Your average feature doesn't take six clicks. Think about the easy money these things make for us. It's a no brainer for us, and it's a no-brainer for advertisers. And it's really slick when advertisers and publishers turn those suckers into...
3. Advertorial. I'm not sure why David Mamet hasn't written a play called "Advertorial," because it's awesome, it's dirty, it's scuzzy, it's semi-secretive, and it's keeping many, many media operations alive. Advertorial is exactly what it sounds like.
Lots of people think Advertorial is the future. They might be right, because it's definitely the present. Here's how to tell if you're reading advertorial: Does the content read like something else you'd read on that site? Does it also contain information selling you on somebody you're reading on the site? Does it look like a cookie, but smell like shit? If the answer to any of those questions is "Yes," it's advertorial. And like anal sex, everyone's thought about doing it. Even lesbians/non-profits. Most people have and/or will. Gift guides are great places to slip in advertorial.
4. But they're the bane of our existence. Gift guides require lots of pictures, links, pagination, and menial work we'd give to interns if we could trust interns with our jobs, which, as much as we'd like to, most of us don't. Most of our interns are just drunk youngpeople who we only trust to do the work sober that we do drunk. And when you have a drunk intern on your hands, they are useless. So you end up doing the kind of work that you'd normally kick back and give to interns: barely any editorial, lots of foundation-building ground work ("they need to learn at some point"), and inane HTML click-and-code that makes you want to trepan yourself in the left side of your head (like this post). But because there are big advertising bucks on the line, you can't do that. So you end up working late on a Saturday night, drinking your way through the fucker (like this post). Then again, us BloggerPeople are just like everyone else: we'll avoid work when we can. So why the shit would we spend a Saturday Night doing it?
5. Because people who work at publications get free shit. All of them. No, all of them. Yes: even them. Even if it's not tangible, they get free shit. There's this FTC blogger law thing that's going to make them all disclose all the free shit they get, supposedly, but didn't it already get too complicated? Don't worry, publication reader, we're doing the best we can...To get ourselves free shit. You think gift guides would happen if magazine writers just got to look at the stuff? Hell to the no. After all, someone's gotta test the product out, nahmean? I'm sure there're some people who will tell you that they haven't taken anything, ever, from anyone (like me, ahem) but they're totally full of shit (not like me, ahem).
So, that's everything you need to know about what goes into a gift guide. Does that mean gift guides are inherently bad things? Of course not. In fact, some of them are very well-written, and #servicey. Come on, don't lie: you've bought something you've seen on a gift guide. Hell, a few of them—like my favorite, Flavorwire's—are even pleasures to read. Don't worry, they didn't pay me for that.
But, truth be told, in the end, it's all about us. And what we want. Which is—almost more than any other feature you will ever see any publication ever run—money. Your money, advertisers money, anybody's money. Which, let's face it, while not the most thoughtful, is always the best gift of them all.