Why is People spinoff StyleWatch so successful? Because it only cares about products. And it doesn't pretend to care about anything else.
The magazine has been racking up the newsstand sales, and even in this climate, the advertisers, by ignoring what women's fashion magazines always used to do, a fact The New York Times's Stephanie Clifford takes note of today. It's not that this makes StyleWatch more praiseworthy or even a better read, at least for this reader. But it does make it more honest, and clearly it's working.
Here are some of the things fashion magazines generally do that this magazine doesn't:
1) Pretend that advertisers don't influence who they list in the credits of their shoots, or their front of the book, or best of all what their cover model wears.
2) Fly big-name photographers and their entourages, plus magazine staff, to exotic locales to shoot celebrities and models.
3) Promote the distance between the reader and an impossibly glamorous world out there that is just beyond the reader's reach, although you can maybe spring for a brand-name handbag now and then, which is only a partial bridge to that world.
4) Have long, wordy articles, some of which can be good good, and some of which lamely pretend to have an interest beyond products, or contain the following sentences: "The Eastern European model moment came out of the Brazilian model moment, a moment of hips."
5) Have some of these wordy articles (or charticles) instruct you on how to live your life, be that how to lose weight or get or keep a man.
People StyleWatch has some of the elegant conceptual simplicity that Lucky began with: It's just about the shopping. Infinitely more celebrity-driven than Lucky (which had to grudgingly put celebrities on its cover), the more downmarket StyleWatch hit upon a key realization that blogs figured out long ago. That is, most readers don't care about access to celebrities, at least not if it yields bland, innocuous, I'm-at-a-hotel-bar-with-X copy that might has well have been emailed over by the publicist. (In fact, People StyleWatch has no problem admitting that lots of its enthusiastic celeb "quotes" were emailed along by the publicist.) And most people don't read fashion magazines for the articles.
True fashion die-hards love fantasy editorial shoots with ambitious photography, but these days, "Just Like Us" has far more customers. Just ask editor in chief Susan Kaufman, who used to work at Glamour and Mademoiselle:
"I thought that, oh, we need to do photo shoots, because that's what magazines do," she said. "I realized they actually love the merch" - StyleWatch shorthand for merchandise. The shots from paparazzi that it uses now are as cheap as $150 apiece and rarely cost more than $800.
The clothes are also cheap and affordable copies of what the celebrities are wearing. That readers can buy! Because odds are, if they are reading, they like stuff, some of which they want to be able to buy. And, as the StyleWatch folks learned from their own research, those customers care more about what the celebrities are wearing when they're on their "own time" — maybe a Starbucks or, hey, a SmartWater! in hand — than when they think someone else, a magazine editor or otherwise, told them what to wear.
It's all about the real, people. The real, straightforward, sale, that is, without slightly less disingenuous posturing. And clearly people are buying.