Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rolling Stone Rolls Down Hill?

I had some marketing folks in my store yesterday; a bunch of forty something guys who were looking for information on what magazines attract teen to early twenty athletic males. They’re standing there, puzzled as all hell (one of them even mentioned that his daughter might know this better than he), when one of them reaches for the Rolling Stone. “Rolling Stone, of course,” he said. And they all nodded.

Rolling Stone. Of course…not.

See, I don’t know about the rest of the country, or even in other bookstores, but the majority of my Rolling Stone is sold to people in their thirties or above. Especially when they do retrospective covers like they did not too long ago with the Zepplin/Robert Plant cover. (Oddly enough, this was also one I sold a lot to teens, but only those who fell into the classic rock profile.) My store’s teens and twenty-somethings are much more likely to just flip through RS, until something (a compelling political article, etc) makes them buy it, but the days where we ran out of stock before the new issue arrived are long gone.

At the store we joke that one of my coworkers is going to create the “new” Rolling Stone: a magazine that does for her generations what RS did for its. There’s a general feeling that it doesn’t have the connection, the appeal, to the younger audience anymore (after that first blush, where the kids pick it up because their folks have talked it up so much). I don’t know if this is represented in their sales, or if this is regional, but the generation gap (and lack of generation saviness in this marketing department on this issue) was interesting.

Well, interesting to me, at least.

Can y’all think of anything where you’ve witnessed a generation gap like this? Either the marketing department somewhere failing to appeal to their target base by making assumptions based on out-moded data or where something has fallen out of favor from one group to the next? Are there items (books specifically if you can think of any) that bridge this gap, and if they do, why? Do they have some common themes?


joia said...

So did you jump in and redirect the marketing guys to more age-appropriate periodicals? If so, what'd you point them to? Or what WOULD you have pointed them to?

I see that sort of age gap all the time in the music industry. People want to hire bands that will draw young crowds and they suggest things like an Abba Tribute ("because Retro is popular!"). Um, right.

Von Allan said...

I can't speak to your question, but to get a broader sense of how relevant it is I'm curious to know what Rolling Stone's competition back in the day was. I have a sneaking suspicion (though I have no idea if I'm actually right) that it's facing far stiffer competition then it did in the late 60s and 70s. And I don't mean just from other magazines; I think print magazines in general have faced a loss in readership from the inroads made in other media (the net, tv, etc...).

'Course, it would be nice if Hunter S. Thompson was still around and still writing for them!


m said...

see...i am 40 and what i think bridges the gaps may not actually bridge the can we tell when we are being like those marketing guys and making assumptions...

so here is what i think:
1) comic books...a guy at work in his early 20's and i spoke about iconic comic book charactes like superman,batman, spider man.

2) classic great literature...if a young person gets hold of a good story, whether it is a Jane Austen novel or Shakespeare play made into a teen movie or whether it is the actual book off the shelf read for high school English, those classics hit the younger generations just like the ones who came before.

3)young love...every generation thinks they invent sex and romance, so books, movies, and music that tie into that experience can be re-appreciated by younger generations while still being appreciated by the older ones....for example, the movie Grease.

Jackie said...

Oooh -- comic books.

Totally with M on this one.

I grew up reading comics. Not Archies -- Batman, Teen Titans, The Avengers, Wonder Woman, X-Men, New Mutants, etc. Dad and I would read them every week. (I was the son he never had, I guess.) At one point, I collected 20 titles a week. Really. For my bat mitzvah, I got X-Men Nos. 94 - 100 in mint condition. I was thrilled!

Recently, I glanced through some back issues of previous favorites. The New Teen Titans, by Wolfman and Perez, had been my absolute end-all, be-all of comics when I was a teen. Reading through the stories, I was stunned and sad to find them...trite.

Was I getting old?

Nah. Comics have always reflected messages of our times. The culture shift that happens with every generation comes through loud and clear. I did a report on comics and culture for NYU back in 1998, but damn it all, I lost the report. I called it "Of Spiders and Steel."

My all-time favorite as an adult, who has stopped reading comics regularly? Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN. Close second: Matt Wagner's MAGE and original GRENDEL. Third: Alan Moore's MIRACLEMAN. Fourth: Alan Moore's WATCHMEN.

Man, comics. Amazing stuff.

If you can look past the back-breaking boobs, that is.

Anonymous said...

The current generation has been allowed to drive the market. That is to say marketers no longer aim advertising at markets, they alter the actual products to what the market thinks it wants. This has created a general lack of substantial quality, intelligence and style in products ranging from clothing, to magazines to books.

This is why they can sell unrine stained ratty jeans at $300 a pop, mysogynistic hip hop, and oh so many god awful vampire romance novels!

The market is too busy trying to copy the "next big thing" they have ignored trying for any originality, stylistic breakthroughs or intellectual content for the last say, 15 years.

That is how you get a generation that thinks People, FHM and Flaunt magazine speak to them more than Rolling Stone.

Anyway, I'm going back out to my lawn and shout at the passing kids!
(shaking fist at the world!)

Anonymous said...

Oops sorry, forgot to answer your qwerstion!

Um, Augusten Burroughs and the unpronouncable Palhunik, pauluhink...
(one google later)
Chuck Palahniuk seem to be bridging the gap as students as well as thinking people seem to dig these books!

Orhan Kahn said...

Insightful post.

Personally, I don't see National Geographic or TIME magazines as much as I used to. Rolling Stone died with the Limp Bizkit generation and the second wave of the internet. I mean, why bother spending money on a magazine full of advertisments when you can just log on and read for free.

Anonymous said...

oooh, I gotta comment, sorry---


another over 40 person; we had Trouser Press, Circus, and the 70's equal of Jon Stewart---SNL (orig.cast)

At the risk of we both being raging age-ists, at least these guys cared to bother to find out what is going on with under 30's, and...we ain't dead yet.

Jackson said...

When R.S. first came out, you felt a little surprised that "kids" could make a newspaper (it looked like a newspaper back then). I'm not sure if 'underground newspapers' were already popular but I don't believe RStone had any competition. Then there it was in Des Moines somehow, with Lennon on the cover.

Being 45 I'm not sure I'd cross any generation gap anyway. Any educated youngster is welcome to cross to this side though. But we all miss one another's jokes and allusions, and young people don't realize there's very little new under the sun.

-Jackson (long time bookseller, long ago. Miss it.)

quiche said...

The most recent bridging of the gap I've seen was Weird Al's song "White and Nerdy." Kids who weren't even born when Weird Al wrote his first parodies are loving this song and video thanks to the Internet, specifically youtube.

RS was played out when I was in college 20 yrs. ago. Spin was more popular. Now I feel really old.

Anonymous said...

My impression is that the way in which music/pop culture information is disseminated has changed so much that there isn't going to be something that is precisely like RS for the under-20s. Instead, there will be a range of lifestyle/demographically-targeted magazines, blogs, and various targeted marketing blitzes. There are a ton of small publications that are local and cover the live music scene in an area--and those are likely to be in the "free newspapers" area. So then, trying to figure out what music magazine is fresh for the under-20s is an interesting question, but it's probably not the question they thought they were asking.

Do we really need or want to "bridge the gap?" It seems to me that the best of any genre has appeal outside of its genre, and that people who don't always listen to X will all be able to listen to the Best of X from time to time. I think that one of the eye-roll-worthy aspects of our culture at the moemnt is that Baby Boomers really, really, really want to identify with "the youth" instead of with "the aged," and since many of their parents are still alive, the identification with "the aged" can be postponed, even for people in their 60s. In other words, the BB generation doesn't want to lose its grip on what's cool and what's happening, and they don't want to be as isolated from "the kids today" as their parents were for them (in some cases, invoking an obvious stereotype). This is sometimes fun, but it's also sometimes grasping and intrusive. Let the youth of today form whatever youth culture they can, with the BB-controlled media companies marketing to them within an inch of their little lives. Vive le(a?) generation gap!

Gene said...

What about something like the Onion? I realize that it's free, and I don't have a concrete sense of its demographics, but I'd guess that the combination of its main pages--lots of accessible, provocative satire--and its A.V. Club section--largely a mix of popular and "higher" culture comic/book/music/movie reviews--would appeal to readers from their teens to their 20's and 30's and beyond.

Occasionally, the Onion and/or its individual contributors will publish books, too. I've seen at least one best-of compilation of its satire, and I know that Dan Savage, its syndicated sex columnist, has published several books of his own. I'd imagine that these kinds of things would appeal to a wide demographic, as well, though they might skew slightly older.

FilmLiterature said...

It's true, most of the magazines now are full of ads or have articles on the depressing new bands (Emo music - which I find pointless and seems to be popular with some teens or twenty-somethings).

At least for YOUNG kids, I disagree with the replies above -
kids today don't read, they spend most of their time watching television or playing video games (or sitting on the internet playing PC games).

But at my friend's home there is one kid who actually reads the comics books I give him - the rest of the kids are interested in playing with their bikes or sitting down for hours with a videogame.