When a Product Becomes Too Successful
I can’t recall when I first subscribed, but I remember the subscription offer: a buck an issue, or $12 a year.
“The right offer should be so attractive that only a lunatic would say ‘no’, ” wrote the legendary advertising practitioner of the 1920s, Claude Hopkins, author of the breakthrough book, “Scientific Advertising.”
Even the current offer for Vanity Fair is unbelievable—thousands and thousands of elegant, full-color pages a year for a measly $1.25 an issue.
I used to look forward to every issue, finding one or two great articles—profiles of contemporary movers and shakers and wonderful crime stuff by Dominick Dunne, always recounted in personal, emotional terms and superb prose. Here were inside looks at politics and world affairs by David Halberstam, Carl Bernstein, Michael Wolff and Christopher Hitchens. In addition, of course, were spectacular fashion ads and brilliant photography by Annie Liebovitz and Helmut Newton.
But the magazine kept getting fatter and increasingly more difficult to heft and read. I began to stop looking forward to it. When it arrived, instead of dropping everything to dive in, I found myself sticking it aside to read later, sometimes not getting to an issue at all.
I found much of the editing to be wildly undisciplined, allowing writers to be wordy, sloppy and self-indulgent. I remember once starting a Christopher Hitchens piece in which he wrote in effect,” Now remember what I have written here, because I am going to come back to it.” This is poor.
Then last week the 400-page September 2006 colossus arrived. On the cover was supermodel Kate Moss, who had been fired in 2005 from being the centerpiece of a huge advertising campaign by H&M, Europe’s largest clothing store chain with 78 stores in the United States. The reason for her dismissal: cocaine use. “If someone is going to bet the face of H&M,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Uglialoro, “it is important they be healthy, wholesome and sound.” Moss was also dropped by Chanel and Burberry.