Right now at a bar in London, a new women’s magazine is being launched. Alas, I am not at the party but I do have a copy of Clique’s first issue in front of me. A quick scroll down the @Cliquemaguk Twitter feed provides a clear indication of the magazine’s focus and content: good luck messages and comments about the launch party have been tweeted by brands ranging from Accessorize to Radley, New Look to Lulu Guiness. The close, indeed inextricable, relationship between advertisers and those producing editorial content is writ large in the new title’s feed as well as its pages. This is no surprise; the role of advertising in financing women’s magazines is well known. What Clique is doing, however, takes this intertwining to the next level. Claiming to be ‘The World’s First Totally Clickable / Shoppable / Watchable Fashion & Beauty Magazine’, it is designed to be an interactive experience. Engagement with the magazine, and also its adverisers, via the Clique app is not just encouraged but expected; that is entire purpose of the new product.
Indeed the word ‘product’ to describe Clique seems just as apt as terms such as magazine, publication, title. Likewise, the woman with the magazine in her hands is perhaps better described as the consumer rather than the reader. Despite some standard women’s magazine features, such as a cookery page, there is very little to read; the emphasis is firmly on visual content. Furthermore, the magazine repeatedly and consistently positions the reader as a consumer. Using the Clique app, the reader-consumer can ‘unlock hidden content’ on every page, indicated by a range of eight symbols. This is where the interactive element comes in, allowing the reader-consumer to share details of items with friends, watch videos of fashion shoots or get styling tips. Crucially, however, the reader-consumer can also ‘buy straight from the page’, ‘get a discount’, ‘pre-order now’ and ‘get a free sample’ – innovations clearly intended to attract advertisers and an audience alike. It’s a marketing dream: magazines have long enticed women to purchase the goods that they feature but this has the added ‘impulse buy’ advantage. The reader-consumer doesn’t have time to lose enthusiasm or begin to think rationally about her decision as she would if she had to go out to the shop, or even look an item up online (I should know. I almost found myself the owner of a £185 pair of gloves). As the new title’s name suggests, spending is just a click (or three) away. Of course this also has an important advantage for Optima Communication Ltd, the publishers. By using the app as an entry point to online retailer, the role of the Clique in publicising the item is acknowledged in a way that allows the editorial team to prove their effectiveness in marketing goods to the magazine’s audience.
Of course, that effectiveness has yet to be proved. At a time when well-established magazines are struggling to maintain readerships and some titles, such as More, have disappeared from newsagent shelves, it seems more difficult than ever for new ventures to make a go of it. Having said that, tales of decline and difficulty are reoccuring motifs within the history of women’s magazines and every decade has seen its share of successes and failures. The technological innovations within Clique may give it an advantage over the digital versions of the industry’s current mainstays. Moreover, that there’s no cover price may allow it to compete with other recent successes, such as Stylist, although my first impression is that Clique is avoiding direct rivalry by seemingly targeting a slightly less affluent and less metropolitan audience, as well as being delivered monthly via the post rather than given away by street vendors and shops; interestingly, though, French Connection – who have been an erstwhile supporter of Stylist – tweeted Clique to toast ‘a print revolution’.
A ‘print revolution’ is underway. Last month saw the launch of Feminist Times, an attempt to create a mix of online and print content that is ad-free and PR-free, funded instead by paying members. As a model, this is the opposite extreme to the approach used by Clique’s producers. Yet the appearance recently of what are effectively merchandise catalogues presented as ‘proper’ magazines, from discount retailers (SportsDirect.com) to purveyors of high end designer goods (net-a-porter.com), suggests that Optima Communications have tapped into a concurrent emerging trend. Some may find this distasteful, but it is arguable preferable to the rather more deceptive situation where the advertisers have a huge influence over magazine content but nobody publicly admits it. Perhaps consumers in the C21st are savvy enough to see through the smoke-and-mirrors. Maybe this isn’t a revolution at all, but the final chapter in the evolution of the relationship between advertising and women’s magazines that took hold in the post-war period. Indeed to the cultural commentators who derided ‘the little woman’ and her magazines in the 1950s and 60s, the further blurring of divisions between advertising and editorial content as seen in Clique would have seemed like some kind of dystopian nighmare of the future. And it has come true. They might have been surprised, though, that this development does not mean the end to the women’s magazine formula as they knew it. On the contrary, alongside its innovations, Clique continues with many of the tried-and-tested formulaes found in women’s magazines throughout the last century. For instance, the introduction to the ‘Christmas Shop in Style’ travel piece states ‘we’re more about shops than the slopes’, a classic example of women’s magazine discourse using the inclusive ‘we’ to join the editorial team and the consumer readers together (and also encouraging a focus on consumerism to the exclusion of other activities, in this skiing). The title itself takes this sense of a shared club even further. I will watch with interest how many women reader-consumers want to join this Clique.