20 Ans, a Model for Glossy Magazines in the Internet Age?

Time for another post looking at French media and asking in a ha-ha-only-serious way whether it can be extrapolated in the internet age.

This time we’re looking at 20 Ans, a glossy girl/women’s magazine that has been the talk of the French blagosphere and proto-statusphere, and not in a good way.

They get somewhat less attention than the New York Times‘ poor financial performance, but glossy magazines have suffered particularly hard from the recession because they rely on big ad spending on things like luxury items, two sectors that have been hit particularly bad. But I believe glossy magazines are one part of the press that can offer true value for money and thrive even in the internet age (Tyler Brûlé‘s Monocle is a particularly encouraging example in this regard).

20 Ans had been off the shelves for several years and is now being brought back by a new owner, Frédéric Truskolaski. The problem is it has been accused of basically being ran as a sweatshop by Truskolaski, who used young students to write content for the magazine, doing it all of it online without a newsroom or even, it seems, physical offices. The editor in chief for the first issue was apparently a 19 year old communications student who did the work over instant messenging and was fired a few days before the issue hit the newsstands for being “a little young.” It seems that most of the other contributors were either underpaid, or not paid, or paid late and/or paid much less than what was initially agreed.

With all that, it doesn’t really seem that 20 Ans‘ owner is a real class act. (Truskolaski has sued the newspaper that broke the story for libel, so there’s room for doubt here.) So why do I look at an apparently scammy glossy girl’s magazine as the future, or at least a future?

Well, if you discount all of the shadiness surrounding 20 Ans‘ first issue, the concept of using mostly students, instant messaging and the internet to build a magazine actually seems pretty great to me.

From a purely business perspective, it seems to me that even if you don’t scam your writers that makes for a pretty efficient cost structure. From a new media perspective I think the idea has a lot of potential. And from an empower-the-young perspective (one of my pet issues) I think it’s great to have students write for and even edit a “real” magazine.

A lot of the noise in the French blogosphere seems to revolve as much around the potential swindling of the writers and editors as around outrage that “real journalism” can’t come from young students who communicate over the internet. As some of you can imagine, I think the latter is just flat-out wrong.

Besides, let’s be honest here: we’re talking about a girl’s magazine, whose job is mainly to sprinkle some words and pictures over a ton of glossy fashion and cosmetics ads. You don’t need a Pulitzer Prize to write about Lindsay Lohan’s fashion choices.

And even then: people like Michael Yon have showed that “true” investigative reporting can be done very well online by bloggers with no particular journalism credentials.

So, do I think in the future all glossy print magazines will be written by 19-year olds over AIM? No. Do I think it would be awesome (and sustainable) if some of them were? Absolutely.