Generation X a Double-Edged Sword

By Sentinery, Robert | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, May 15, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Generation X a Double-Edged Sword

Sentinery, Robert, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

One of the fastest-growing segments of the publishing industry targets a category of readers known as Generation X, a term adopted by the advertising trade to label today's hottest consumer market. And it's huge - 46 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 - and baffling to Madison Avenue, where clearly defined markets are everything and variables are to be kept to a minimum.

It's difficult to imagine a fortysomething advertising executive with a finger on the pulse of this diverse and rapidly changing youth culture, a group whose tastes range from thrift-store finds and retro styles to designer furniture and ecofashion. But with a total disposable income of more than $125 billion, this is a worthy segment of consumers who can no longer be ignored.

So, we see large advertising campaigns being directed toward this audience, and even larger print budgets being fed to the publications that appeal to X'ers. Certain veteran corporations have seen this trend as a unique opportunity to update their proven but sometimes stale images while attracting a younger consumer market whose members may not yet have established a brand I It simply makes sense for brands to spend their budgets reaching a vital market that may continue to be loyal for life.

Dramatic impact on publishing

Ultimately, the buying power behind the advertising industry's push for Generation X has dramatically affected publishing, creating a whole new genre of youth-oriented titles. Especially notable is Conde Nast's acquisition and conversion of Details from a fringe fashion-and-club-culture publication with a unisex readership to a dead-on Generation X, young men's title - a GQ for the twenties set. Details has been wildly successful, recently outpacing all other men's lifestyle magazines for ad pages sold. Details is a testament to good market research and excellent timing. If Details can sell more ad pages than GQ or Esquire - well, that tells us something about where advertisers are spending their money.

Hearst has also recently entered this arena with Swing, its own twentysomething title published and edited by the son of fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Swing has an advantage over most of the new Generation X titles in that it has the backing of a strong parent company. Unlike Details, Swing was born with a silver spoon in its mouth.

The urge to jump on the X bandwagon has created numerous magazines that struggle to meet unrealistic budgets and tight publication schedules. And in many instances, they have failed to launch. These projects are usually independently funded and operate on a shoestring. Titles like Project X, IO and KGB come to mind. All made their debuts with slick issues and high hopes to take the market by storm, only to find that the Generation X buzz is not always enough to sustain a new magazine or to fill those desperately needed advertising pages.

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