Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


May 11, 2009

Beauty and the Beastly Business

Tai Beauchamp, a magazine industry vet, addresses questions about the ailing business.

Megan Stride

Tai Beauchamp has been prettying up the magazine world for more than 10 years, but even she can admit it's looking ugly these days. Beauchamp began her editorial career at Good Housekeeping and Harper's Bazaar, before joining the freshly-launched O, The Oprah Magazine in 2000. She went on to serve as Seventeen Magazine's beauty and fitness editor, and as deputy editor for the since-departed Vibe Vixen in 2006.

In all of her roles, Beauchamp tries to focus on the aesthetic qualities of her magazines and their content. "That's my thing," she tells Gelf, "to bring style and substance together." But now she's not sure if that's going to be enough. She envisions a future where so-called magazines are cross-platform promotional tools, reaching their audiences in a variety of ways.

Tai Beauchamp
"Even if you have the content, if you can't sell it, you can't print the pages."

Tai Beauchamp

In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Beauchamp dishes with Gelf on what it takes these days for a magazine to live, the reason she got back into the business after a hiatus, and what's to be lost by the potential death of the glossy book. Come hear her and other editors from recently lost glossies at Gelf's Media Circus event on Thursday, May 14, at the JLA gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Gelf Magazine: You made your mark in big-time glossies pretty quickly. After interning at Harper's Bazaar and Good Housekeeping, you joined the very new O: The Oprah Magazine in 2000. What was that start-up experience like?

Tai Beauchamp: I worked on the third issue. At that point, Oprah was obviously a huge success, and so it was really really exciting. All the magazines I've worked on outside of my internship experiences have always been relaunches or startups, but there was this weird kind of energy around the Oprah startup because I think everyone was really banking on it.
It was not the typical experience for a new journalist. It wasn't until after working there that I learned about how many magazines fail in their first year.
But Oprah was the best prep school possible for magazines; working for editors like Amy Gross, you were really developing true journalism skills as well as packaging and editing skills. At a startup, more than anything you hone your ability to be a reporter.

Gelf Magazine: You've been in magazines for more than ten years, and you've really established yourself as a beauty writer and editor. How is that different from other areas of the magazine?

Tai Beauchamp: I was the beauty director at the time I left Seventeen, and I can always compare that to features. Usually for beauty and fashion editors, you're not only a reporter on trends, or a writer or editor, but you also have to interface with advertisers. For the most part, most of the advertisements for women's magazines are driven by beauty first, then fashion and then other consumer brands.

Gelf Magazine: Does that get sticky ethically?

Tai Beauchamp: Not if you're at the right books. There are brands and books there are very strict of maintaining a separation of church and state, of editorial and business. Then there are others which are notorious for not doing that. I would dare to say that there are editors—like those who I worked with at Oprah—who don't necessarily let advertisers drive their content or what's featured on a page. I was big on emphasizing the quality of a product before we wrote good things about it. Never did I say it was okay that a product is on the page just because they bought an ad. That's unacceptable.

Gelf Magazine: Is having a specialization—beauty, for you—still as useful, employment-wise, as it used to be? Or should we all be trying to master all sectors?

Tai Beauchamp: Speaking from a human resources perspective, I understand that position of wanting to have smaller staffs and people who are good at everything, but that's not realistic. You don't want to fall into the category of being a jack-of-all trades and a master of none.
I do think that finding people who are experts in more than one thing can be very useful. I, for example, consider myself a lifestyle person, rather than just beauty or fashion. I know that I can do entertainment, fitness, beauty, fashion, and that's a marketable foundation.

Gelf Magazine: The world of magazines is obviously very different today, for both startups and new journalists. Do new magazine hopefuls need a different game plan than those of ten years ago?

Tai Beauchamp: My internships definitely gave me a very good foundation. I think now because there's so much more access to media, having a good internship is not enough to break into magazines.
Candidates need to have leadership abilities and be go-getters. You can come in with your own following because you can start your own blog—that will impress an editor. If you're innovative and creative and think about it, you can go in and really wow a lot of editors.
Because everyone has so much more access to publishing and readers, you have to sell yourself in a different way. Now, when I'm looking at interns, I want people coming in with clips of their own, and have a blog with a certain amount of followers. I think today's world presents its own unique opportunities in that way.
At the same time, the reality of it is that these magazines are moving away from print, and more to online. Again, if younger people are coming in and know how to be tech-saavy and communicate with readers and get web traffic, they become more of an asset.

Gelf Magazine: You moved to Vibe Vixen as deputy editor in 2006. Sadly, that book folded in 2007. What's it like working at a magazine when it gives up the ghost?

Tai Beauchamp: Vibe Vixen started as a quarterly magazine when it launched in 2004, under Vibe. When they brought me on, that's when it was going to 6 times a year. I relaunched it with a whole new staff. We were a small group. Everyone knew it when it was ending. We had a super small staff of very intelligent people, we all hung out together, and we worked really hard to put out the best possible product with limited resources.
But by the time it closed, morale was low. The company that owns Vibe was going through some changes, so we were all intelligent enough to know that there were some things that were going to change. There were rumblings that there might be cuts or even a close, and that definitely affected morale.

Gelf Magazine: So you saw it coming?

Tai Beauchamp: Oh, yeah, I did. Unfortunately, I would probably say that in 2005 or 2006, with any magazine that was launching or relaunching, advertisers were scaling back already.
As the beauty editor, I dated and was engaged to someone who was an advertising director, so I got to know the business side intimately. So going into Vixen, I asked a lot of questions. I had worked on two prototypes for the magazine Suede, and I understood that there's a lot that goes into making a magazine. It normally takes 5 years before you start to generate profit.
And understanding the business side, I pretty quickly saw that Vixen wasn't going to succeed in the market of the time. The budget I had to develop the editorial side of the magazine was nominal. It was really a numbers game, and it couldn't last.

Gelf Magazine: Did you ever want to jump ship before it got too bad?

Tai Beauchamp: No. I had left publishing a few years before for my philanthropic work, and I wasn't necessarily looking to go back in. One of the reasons I went to Vixen was because I was working with young people at the time and realized that there wasn't a magazine that spoke to young women of color fearlessly, and I saw this as a huge opportunity to give them something great to read.
When I saw the end coming, for me, it wasn't like I was trying to jump ship, because I was there for that specific reason from the beginning.

Gelf Magazine: Do you get déjà vu when you read about other closed magazines, like CosmoGirl, Domino and Portfolio?

Tai Beauchamp: As a woman who grew up on magazines, I will be honest: I don't spend as much time with all the books as I once did. I used to carve out three or four hours every week, just to read them, and now there's just no time.
It is sad to see what is now becoming and old art form go away. I do know what it feels like, and it's a very difficult thing to go through. I definitely empathize, and those jobs are so much more difficult to find right now, so then you're thinking to yourself, "what are you going to do?" Now the magazine industry is competitive at all levels.

Gelf Magazine: When Vixen folded, did you feel a reaction from the magazine community and from readers?

Tai Beauchamp: Oh absolutely. I still get emails. Another magazine, Honey, is now online, and people are asking if Vixen can come back in that way. Young women who started to follow the magazine ask about it. Young women of color now feel that they don't have a magazine that speaks to them. One of the challenges to the industry now, I feel, is that you're going to have populations and demographics that feel like they're not necessarily going to be spoken to.

Gelf Magazine: So is Vixen coming back? The site currently says "coming soon." If it does, will you go back, too?

Tai Beauchamp: For me, I'm going in a different direction. But I would love to see the magazine come back. I went into media because it gives a voice to people. So anything I do in media, the reason I do it is because I want people to connect, and to see themselves and to take something away. That's why I went to Vixen, so I would love to see Vixen come back. I think there is absolutely a void in the market.
The consumer here though, she's younger, and she's getting her information elsewhere. She's getting it online.

Gelf Magazine: She is. Looking at the big picture, everyone seems to be scrambling to find the working model for the media biz. Any ideas on the grand solution?

Tai Beauchamp: I think it's definitely going to have to be across platforms. I think in magazines you'll always have those big titles, for lack of a better number, call it the big 10, big 20, big 30, whatever. There will be magazines we see on stands that will always be there, that advertisers will always want. But for the others, they need to adjust fast.
Three years ago, we just thought it was about being online. I don't think that's enough—now you have to have events, have social networking, possibly have something in print on a less frequent basis, but have something that's tangible, and then possibly something on television—it's about multi-media platforms. I don't think anyone has figured the model out. And for those that are doing well with that diversified model right now, I think it's going to be difficult for any new brand to come and take away some of those readers from Vogue, for instance.

Gelf Magazine: So who's doing it right?

Tai Beauchamp: Right now, Marie Claire does a good job, Oprah does a good job, but of course she has a television show. Her website is starting to develop more of a social environment. InStyle does a pretty good job. Real Simple does well. Essence has been doing a pretty good job recently too.
I think another key piece in the future will be partnerships—a brand like Essence has the huge benefit of being under Time Warner, so they have a partnership with CNN. So developing those partnerships with other media outlets will definitely help.

Gelf Magazine: What's to be lost if glossy magazines become a thing of the past? Do you think that will happen?

Tai Beauchamp: I grew up reading Vogue and Seventeen and tearing out the pictures, so I love them. But to an 18- or 19-year-old who has always gotten her information online, it doesn't matter as much. It's completely relative.
Personally, looking at a fashion story on the internet is completely different than paging through it in a magazine. I still live to buy the New York Times and just read the Styles section. I live for that on Thursday. I live for it!
But in order to stay current, we have to get super creative and useful. We have to move always from thinking that the way we've always done it has always been right. We can have something in print, but we have to make it even more exciting online.
When you think about it, a lot of what magazines were started for was for them to be a creative outlet. Then they shifted to be a source of economic revenue. When you have to be thinking about the business model, it's not just about the content.
What we're seeing happen right now is that we need the money too. You need the creativity to be able to go out and sell. But even if you have the content, if you can't sell it, you can't print the pages.

Gelf Magazine: Which is where we are now. Who messed up, and where?

Tai Beauchamp: I think you have to be more creative and more savvy. There were editors and writers who never thought about the business side. It's challenging to think about media holistically. It's sad—if you asked me three years ago, when I went to Vixen, whether or not this would be happening, I would have said that women would always want to have that magazine in their hands. And I don't know that that's true. When you think about it, we have less time to sit around and read magazines. I used to sit and carve out three or four hours every week just to read. We can't do that anymore!
The other thing is that with so much information out there, it's more difficult to discern who's really the expert. So the information we consume is not always the best information. You read something from someone who's been writing from her house for the last two days, and she's not an expert. So you have to be discerning as an editor. My personal thing is to bring style and substance together, that's who I am and what I'm about.

Megan Stride

Megan Stride is a freelance writer and a regular contributor at the Daily Gorilla.

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Article by Megan Stride

Megan Stride is a freelance writer and a regular contributor at the Daily Gorilla.

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