An Open Letter to People StyleWatch Magazine

Oh, People StyleWatch.  Or StyleWatch.  Or whatever you’re being called these days.  We need to talk.

What are you doing?!  What.  Are.  You.  Doing.  I know I don’t exactly do well with change (ask me about my 2015 in its entirety; it’s not even finished yet), but the editing, formatting, and content changes that your team are currently making to one of my most beloved magazines are, I believe, a mistake.  Or maybe I’m completely off and the changes you’ve set in motion aren’t a mistake and will cause People StyleWatch (PSW) to skyrocket into the stratosphere of newsstand success against all the odds that print publications have working against them these days.  Or maybe I’m just sad, and I need to vent.

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PSW, I know you ousted your founding editor in chief, Susan Kaufman, back in January of this year after Ariel Foxman was promoted to editorial director of both InStyle and PSW.  I know you felt that the magazine needed to hit the refresh button as issues have gotten slightly slimmer over the past two years or so, having peaked around 2013 from what I can tell.  It happens.  I mean, we’ve watched once-adored fashion magazines starve, implode, and literally go to the grave over this past year (RIP Lucky magazine) so I get it.  I really do.  We’ve all been watching Self magazine struggle through a similar quest for self-realization for about year now.  The need for a comeback, the need to secure more ads (which, for my readers, is how magazines basically make their revenue [and not newsstand sales as you may think]), the need for a lifeline.  I get it.

I also know, however, that as of 2015 you’ve decided want to change your longstanding focus of celebrity fashion to street style, because bloggers and street style stars are getting everyone all hot and bothered these days.  I know you have decided that the magazine needs an increased focus on inclusivity, the younger kiddos, and their “millennial passion for discovery” (and just so we’re clear, I’m a millennial).  I know you’re aiming for something close to a brand overhaul, with younger cover stars (hello Gigi Hadid, good bye Jennifer Aniston?), trendier language (You so fancy!), and changing the cover design (three cover stars instead of one), with the intent of “dirty[ing] up the magazine’s design a bit”.  Again, currently watching Self do the same thing, about a year or two in front of you guys.  Ahem.

However, I humbly submit that these changes you are making are a frightening case of lost identity.  The new content, the new language, the new focus- none of it is in line with the long-standing brand of People StyleWatch magazine.  This new direction the magazine has taken is so vastly different from the original vision that it’s beginning to feel a bit bait-and-switch, with a nearly unrecognizable product once you turn past the cover.  And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that choosing to drastically toy with your brand and identity can either resurrect you a’la J.Crew under Jenna Lyons (and even that era has come to a close) … or it can start dragging you toward the point of no return, straight to Lucky land.

You, PSW, are the magazine that I have been reading faithfully since the summer of 2006.  I remember my mom handing me an issue with Jessica Alba on the cover that summer, and anxiously anticipating each issue since then.  I had never thought fashion could be so easy, so consumable.  You featured fashion and beauty trends with a main focus on what celebrities are wearing.  You were unique for your “Get the Look” feature, showing desirable outfits on our favorite celebs and then where to purchase similar pieces at a fraction of the price.  You were an expert at spelling out the trends for the season in an easy-to-comprehend way that used celebrities as models, but never expected the reader to have a celebrity budget.  Love Katie Holmes’ outfit?  Great!  Here’s where to find a look-alike item for half the cost.  Want jeans like Beyonce’s?  No problem!  Here are ten different options in a variety of price ranges.  Oh, and here’s a list of petite sizes for types similar to Eva Longoria, some great finds for plus-sized girls like Rebel Wilson, and styles that work well for tall girls like Charlize.  Everyone wins, no matter size or budget.

This was all done in an extremely straight forward way without being verbose and silly, with plenty of beautiful pictures and close-up images of great celebrity makeup, hair, and outfits.  Because that’s what we want- we want pictures of great celebrity makeup, hair, and outfits and we want to copy them.  We can get everything else online or in a different magazine.  Helping you achieve that celebrity look at a better price- that was your niche, PSW.  And no matter how much of a sheep it made me feel like, it was really, really fun.  People StyleWatch, you had a well-established niche that was all your own and you inspired nearly a decade of nonstop shopping and inspiration.

Now, did your magazine pretty much show me exactly what to buy?  Sure.  Was I really thinking for myself as far as what I wanted to wear?  Not really, or at least not for the first two years of reading until the “style training wheels” came off and I could discern for myself what I liked and didn’t like.  But that’s exactly what you helped so many readers with- to learn which celebrity’s style we enjoyed most, what pieces worked for our bodies and preferences (never again, bubble hem or overalls), and how to keep our eyes peeled for items that looked similar to expensive ones that we liked.   You were not simply a magazine; you were a shopping experience.  You were a very fun, very helpful, and very unique shopping magazine that provided a niche experience for your readers.

So what do things look like now?

Well, for starters, the new covers and font change-ups are lovely.  I like them, I really do.  The continued use of a single cover star in a predictable smiling shot was admittedly feeling tired, and so the change-up of three cover celebrities, whether shot on the street, red carpet, or runway, is a refreshing and welcome change.  The graphic design and font changes look modern, as well.  No problem.  However, I believe there are greater problems at hand.

1) Cut the millennial nonsense and stop limiting your readerbase.

Let me describe my first major issue with your editing changes (and readers, there are two).  I think the first tip-off that something was definitely going wrong with the tone of the magazine was the change in cover language.  Readers, notice the difference between saying “Amazing Outfits for Every Body and Budget” circa 2013 and “15 Ridiculously Cool Ideas!” just this month.  Which one feels straight-to-the-point and relatively ageless? Which one feels juvenile?  I mean, “ridiculously cool“?!  Who else says stuff like that with a serious face?!  Derek Zoolander.  And maybe Miley.

Below, I’m listing other phrases found in a couple of these new issues since the editing change-up.  This new kind of tone and diction has been creeping up in the content since this past April.  Now tell me if they make you feel your age … or if they make you feel sixteen with a melting frappuccino in your hand while drenched in Ariana Grande’s new perfume that smells like candy and Treasure Trolls:

  • “street swagger”
  • “Stress city!” (in reference to trying to find the right outfit for a Tinder date … yes, PSW is now referencing what to wear for Tinder-versus-Grouper-versus Match.com-date)
  • “Go for a look that’s as hot as your profile pic”
  • “Talk about a #tbt!”
  • “Even good girls have a naughty side!”
  • “Don’t be scurred– it’s way more wearable than you think!” (in reference to colored mascara)
  • ” … pick a vibe, any vibe!”
  • “Designer duds minus the ka-ching price? Score!”
  • “Girlfriend is busy” (in reference to Jessica Alba)
  • ” … the pimple struggle is real
  • “You so fancy!”
  • “Yep, it’s pretty badass” (referring to graphic eyeliner)
  • And just a generous use of hashtag(#) phrases in general

I don’t know about you, but I can’t read any of this verbage without gagging.  Maybe it makes sense on Kylie Jenner’s Instagram, but not in print, attempting to make a true sales pitch.  What’s more, this is the kind of language we read in teen magazines such as Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour (yes, I consider those teen mags because their target readership is teen-based).  It changes the mission of the magazine from that of informing and showing, to oh-girlfriend-high-fiving and telling.  I also personally feel it overlooks the intelligence and adaptability of millennials when we’re forcing the use of every buzzword, buzzphrase, and pop culture trend to try to “connect” with them.  It’s busy, dreadfully unsophisticated, and borderline condescending.  But more than that (and perhaps more importantly), it excludes every other age category from being able to relate to your content.

I can guarantee you that language like this will severely alienate readers from about 33 years and up.  I feel alienated and I’m more than five years behind that.  However, from what I’ve researched, I understand that “twenty somethings” are now the official target age for PSW, so if that’s the case then I guess you’re doing your job correctly (even though, again, I am a twenty-something and I find this type of print language a nails-on-chalkboard kind of irritating).  I guess I just lament the fact that you’ve decided that the magazine is no longer meant for those outside of that age bracket.  PSW, you are severely limiting your range of readers by changing the tone to what it now is, and that means loss of potential revenue over time.  I don’t have to graduate from this magazine if you don’t force me, you know.  I could keep reading for another ten years and continue to be a loyal customer, along with my friends in their thirties, and my mom and mom-in-law in their sixties.  Get rid of all the millennial-obsessed pop culture lingo and reach out to younger readers by simply including younger stars on your covers and in your content, continuing your use of interactive music and shopping apps, and stepping up your own game on Instagram and Snapchat.

2) You are trading in what made you unique for what I can find anywhere else in the digital world.

Again, let me reiterate why we all started reading PSW in the first place- celebrity style.  Descriptions of celebrity style.  Pictures of celebrity style.  How to get celebrity style.  There was a clear mission- bringing celebrity style to the reader at a price that suited the reader.

Now, however, celebrity sightings are becoming much more scarce within your pages.  This October’s featured denim section?  Not a single star in sight.  In fact, all of the faces featured in this denim section are bloggers.  The September Fall Runway Report?  While typically showcasing celebs modeling their own interpretation of the latest trends, this feature now merely showcases runway shots.  And in your “Cheat Sheet” section this month, images are one-hundred-percent comprised of street style shots.

Right, because I can’t look at street style photos, looks from the runway, or hear the thoughts of bloggers anywhere else … except maybe on Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, and on the bloggers’ own blogs.  You’re putting content in your magazine that’s already accessible digitally, which is a much, much faster way to get it as opposed to waiting for a monthly.  In the case of bloggers and street style, I get the desire to bring the “normal girl” to the forefront but that’s not what your brand has been.  Your purpose was to uniquely connect the reader to the celebrity in a way that other media avenues didn’t.  I don’t want to come to you for what bloggers are wearing and recommending.  I don’t want to come to you for what’s come directly off the runway.  If I want to read up on those things, I’ll go the digital route where the content is available at a millisecond’s notice (or in the case of runway shots, I can also read any other magazine that you’re competing with like Elle or Marie Claire that has been doing features like this for years).  Why read your once-a-month publication when I can have the same content everyday, at a moment’s notice, on my iPhone?  Why purchase a once-a-month magazine when I’ve already seen everything in it during the past thirty days I spent waiting for it?  As stated earlier, you had a unique way of providing a niche experience for your readers, and now that is being lost.

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Notice how in the first picture from a 2013 issue, celebrities are modeling their interpretation of trends.  In the second shot from this month’s issue, there isn’t the same kind of unique experience for the reader because there are no celebrities in it.  Notice the juvenile language and font in the second picture, as well.

Additionally (and I feel silly for confessing this so openly, but it’s true), I’m not nearly as compelled to purchase anything I see on a non-celeb girl.  I remember when picking up a copy of PSW was the equivalent of getting a shopping list ready, largely thanks to the excellent way the magazine marketed to the reader via celebrities.  I see Kate Mara wearing a certain sweater; I’d like to find that sweater.  I see the picture of Sienna Miller’s pants; I want those pants (or at least the cheaper option you provide).  Perhaps others work differently than I do, but bloggers and other “street style snaps” aren’t a selling point for me.  They’re just not; the same part of my brain isn’t tapped into as a long-time reader.  Or at least, I constantly see blogger and street style images on my digital feeds and I count on PSW to point me to something different.  There are still fairly affordable options featured in the magazine, but what has changed in a negative way is the strategy you are now using (or not using) to market these options.  I might buy the dress if PSW features Kerry Washington wearing it and it looks good; I probably won’t buy the dress if PSW features some unknown wearing it and it looks good.  I don’t think I’ve been inspired to purchase an item seen in PSW since May of this year, and I used to purchase something from nearly every issue.  At least I’m saving money.

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See the difference between 2013’s beauty feature with Emma Stone, and 2015’s that just pictures still shots?  What makes the older feature unique and compelling is how it associates the makeup with a celebrity.

Because I know this is totally a TL;DR post, let me wrap it up- I’m pointing out that the current team at People StyleWatch magazine is trading in what once made it special for a look and feel that is both alienating and reminiscent of almost everything else that’s out there.  I was excited for the changes at first, but I no longer believe that this new vision is a sustainable one, and I am sad to predict that it will tire out quickly.

I used to take a good twenty minutes for myself to carefully scan the pages of PSW for great finds; now I’m done in twenty seconds.  I have kept every issue that I’ve collected over these past nine years and have re-read many of them over and over.  I have not picked up any of the past five issues of PSW beyond a single browse-through.  And finally, I’m not sure why such a drastic amount of changes have been employed during such a short time, even with an editor change-up.  Last year’s September issue was only down ten pages from the year prior, while this year’s September issue was down a full sixty-two pages from 2014.  Maybe there’s a good reason for that that I’m overlooking or failing to understand, but it’s lost on me and the rest of your readers.

People StyleWatch, choose small-but-powerful changes over a brand modification.  Keep your unique purpose and keep your readership that has the potential to span across generations.  I know you can do it.  xo, MR 

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