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Thursday, June 2, 2011

A discussion about online shelter mags

Photo by Tony Cenicola for The New York Times. 

Lonny editors Patrick Cline and Michelle Adams.

Have you read yesterday's New York Times article about online shelter magazines? The piece takes us through the beginnings of the recent publishing phenomenon with the rise of the industry's first online shelter publication Lonny and profiles its editor in chief, former Domino staffer Michelle Adams. Three other similar magazines are discussed and then dismissed as copycats.

One distinction drawn between traditionally-published magazines and their online counterparts is approachability. "Here’s incredible style, but [Lonny is] showing readers how to translate it into their own aesthetic," enthused one reader. "It takes the snobbery out of design." Are print magazines such as House Beautiful and Elle Decor "snobby" or are they publications showcasing the best of the profession of interior design? If one feels decorating is just that - pretty pillows and playing around with mood boards - then perhaps those needs are better served by online publications whose editors are mostly bloggers with no design training and an egalitarian approach to interiors. Of the four magazines mentioned, Adams is the only EIC with a design background and education. She is also the only online editor with any magazine publishing experience.

The article also speaks to the issue of professionalism. Lonny et al do not "have access to the same caliber of photographers, stylists and writers that glossy print magazines do." In a recent shoot for Lonny, editors Adams and Patrick Cline "arrived with just a camera, and over the next two hours they worked their way efficiently through the rooms." There is a certain editorial veracity in such an approach. Adams recalled Domino shoots, "They would call in sometimes truckloads of furniture, accessories, lighting, and we would create the 'Domino look' in somebody’s home and afterwards take it all back." Does this result in aspirational or unattainable interiors?

Also discussed is the idea of a creative mandate. One online editor saw magazine publishing as a way out of the blogging ghetto. "Everyone and their mother has a blog. Unless you’re one of the top five blogs out of millions, you’re not able to make a living," said Crystal Gentilello of Rue. "I saw this as a way to take it to the next level and be ahead of the curve." Is a large blog following a mandate to publish?

Curiously, the article overlooks the fact that there are now well over a dozen shelter/lifestyle magazines in the United States and abroad. Is the impact of online publishing even wider than the piece hints at?

What are your thoughts on some of the questions I've raised?

The Thriving (Online) Shelter Magazine Industry [The New York Times]


TamStyles said...

this is something that stays on my brain. i watch and learn, and watch and learn again. not sure how this show will play itself out with there being so many mags out there...some will have to go. or will they? i would love to hear your take on it all.

Modern Country Lady said...

You don't really need design training to have a good eye ! And I have always suspected magazines feauture interiors on their own terms, ever since one of my friends house was featured in a magazine- they just use the interior as a starting point and make it the way they want it !! If Lonny and Rue were published as a magazine you could buy on the news-stands, they would be serious competition for other life-style magazines.But I hope not everybody who has a big blog will start to puiblish online magazines!! it would be too much!!

Petra Voegtle said...

Raina, to be honest I have neither read the NYTimes article nor would I be able to discuss the internal requirements of a high profile print magazine but I very well understand and can identify professionalism. The lack thereof is one of the symptoms of today - no matter which areas are touched here. The problem is that no-one wants to learn the basics any more, a proper education seems to be considered as a waste of money and time and only easily achieved rewards seem to be today's main goals. The whole theme becomes a never ending story: a lack of education also leads to the inability to differentiate between quick dirty solutions and sophisiticated craftmanship. The result: the cheaper the better. Why should one pay so much more for the "same" result?
Think of photography! Since the digital camera has conquered the markets every hobby photographer is able to shoot reasonable images with the help of photoshop etc. and can sell it via the hundreds of online platforms without ever having heard something about apertures, photometer, depth of focus etc. This has cut off many professional photographers from their life line unless they were able to cover a small niche or were already that much successful that the impact of the digital era was marginable to their craftmanship. I think this very same phenomenon happens in all parts of our life.
While I strongly believe in proper training and education I also think that "easy going" has it's own right. The investment of equipment, time and money may not always rectify the result when it is dead, boring, too styled and simply out of touch. This may be the reason why the high profile magazines and their creators are sometimes perceived as arrogant. A tiny imperfection here or there, the spontaneity may be the sparks people rather can identify with - not the absolute perfection where no child nor pet has its place.
The real professional can do this, waiving pomp and irrational effort, because s/he knows her/his craft. This differentiates him/herself from the dilettante. Eventually the latter will disappear into shortlived success and oblivion...

Interior Design Musings said...

OK, I can't wax on poetically about this, but I do have a couple of thoughts. First, the online sources are not being accessed by everybody. I have several clients that don't even know I have a blog (or blogs in general). These clients are in a different age group and tax bracket from me. So, while the world of interior design is changing (at least how it is accessed), I think there is still a place for all types of media(regardless of the pocket book and design education of those producing it). I, for one, enjoy both. I love online magazines, but also really enjoy my hardcopy issues. I think all of them inspire me and my work in different ways. Secondly, I think some of the best decorators have no formal education in the field (maybe, in fairness, because I practiced law for 10 years prior and have no formal interior design education). For me, I compare it to great cooks. I have met and eaten many meals from amazing cooks who will never be famous chefs. But, this does not take away from the fact that they are amazing at taking simple ingredients and creating something extraordinary. I think you either have it or you don't - talent that is. When you hear someone pushing one side or the other (even my own position) the leaning is always based on their design education/background (or lack there of). Just my two cents. M.

The Zhush said...

I was wondering why only a few were mentioned as well. I think online publishing is such a "hot topic"...and the article was a great jumping off point for a discussion on where its all going, (the answer of course, no one really knows for sure!)

NK: Style-ING w/ Children said...

I think the real point is: to each their own. Some people just don't care enough about craftmanship, colour, shape, proportion, balance, tension, texture, etc etc etc in interiors that surround them. Not everyone gets Mozart and not everyone needs Mozart to have a happy life.
HOWEVER, for those who do have an internal need and drive to be surrounded by "interior design", for those who have aspirations beyond DIYs, professionalism of magazine editors DOES make a difference. You cannot compare Rue to Lonny, or Lonny to Elle Decor. For those who have a sensitivity, education and talent, the differences are blindingly clear.

eileen said...

Ahhhh, Raina! This is going to be a good discussion. I have to be away from my desk all day, but I can't wait to get back, read everyone's comments and a few thoughts of my own. I am so looking forward to what everyone has to say.

Anonymous said...

Interior design musings - you are confusing interior decorating and interior design. Anyone can decorate, where taste plays a major role. However, to practice interior design you need a formal education. Interior design involves complete interior construction - interior architecture. Most people, except those in the profession, don't seem to know the difference, including shelter magazines. Our various associations need to do a better job at educating people about this.

My Interior Life said...

I just went and read the NY Times article. Interesting, but I'm not exactly sure what the take-away is supposed to be. I was a journalism major in college and worked for years in public relations/corporate communications/editorial positions. Do I begrudge any of these people the right to start their own magazine because they have no formal journalism background? Of course not. That doesn't mean some of the articles are not cringe-worthy. But, do I believe every blogger needs to/should start an online magazine? Um, no. If people want to read, they will. I think the online magazines' futures will run their natural course, and those that have merit will survive and the others will either up their game or wither on the vine. Am I the only one who though Michelle Adams seemed a little snippy about the whole thing?

My Interior Life said...

Sorry, I meant to type "thought" not "though" in the last sentence. Guess I should proofread my own comments a little before posting!

Raina Cox said...

My Interior Life - I wonder if Adams wasn't surprised by how quickly and in such numbers the competition materialized.

bomm said...

Many of the online magazines I've looked at seem to be "lifestyle magazines." I don't fall into the demographic. HB and ED often don't map onto my taste but I subscribe to them both, because I feel that I start to absorb principles of layout and pattern or color use, etc., and not just see pretty things to covet (or not). This is one reason that I read your blog, too -- your appreciation of design covers a range of "tastes." Sometimes, in fact your daily deliciousness pix don't include a single item I can imagine wanting to own, yet I find the rooms utterly beautiful and inviting. So I think it's not about online vs print so much as lifestyle vs design. (I am not sure where decorating falls. I think of good decorating as including a sense of space that goes beyond taste. I frankly think that my taste is impeccable! but I've still needed a decorator, because I can't picture how the pieces will form a whole.)

The Down East Dilettante said...

Damn. I have to be at a museum to pick up a painting in a few minutes, and I'd rather be answering these.

As for AD and Elle Decor as snobby---no---and if one doesn't look at examples of great design, relevant to one's own scene or purse or not, one isn't going to do great things on the cheap, either. Knowledge is power.

Karena said...

I know that even the online magazine business is already saturated.I do find something to love or a new idea in all of them.

Print magazines now DO have the reputation of making a home into the design version they want not necessarily the owners interior design.

Come and join my amazing Giveaway from Tracy Porter!

Art by Karena

Come and join my amazing Giveaway from Tracy Porter!

Art by Karena

Interior Design Musings said...

Anonymous - You've just proven my point. I do understand the difference; but many states do not recognize this distinction you've referenced, including the one I live in. And when you're talking about media outlets for interiors, all are appreciated. It's only those that have the education that get catch up in the importance of it. I get it. As a lawyer for ten years, I've met a number of paralegals and legal secretaries that were just as knowledge (if not more so) as many lawyers in the practice. They just didn't have the license or education.

Anonymous said...

Hi Interior Design musings - I just looked on your site and see that you call yourself an interior designer but you say that you have no formal education in the field. So just curious - do you practice interior design or decorating? (I understand that your state doesn't distinguish- just wondering).Interior Designers get 'caught up' in the distinction rightly so because they are qualified to do work that many people end up giving to architects because they are unaware of what an interior designer is qualified to do. When you're overlooked for work because people don't think you're qualified it is important to try to point out the differences. I have the utmost respect for decorators - I find the architectural aspect of my work easier than the decorative. But there is a difference in the work that the two disciploines do.

Interior Design Musings said...

Anonymous - answer me this. What does the distinction between interior designer and decorator have to do with online versus hardcopy shelter magazines. Are you suggesting that there is not room for both in these media venues or that only interior designers should be afforded the opportunity to create interiors for either?

Interior Design Musings said...

Also, as an aside, I think it is much easier to have a nasty tone when you are writing anonymously. I would love to click over to your website or blog and see your work as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Interior Design Musings - YIKES! I can't believe you thought I was being nasty. Absolutely did not mean it to come out that way
(a problem with writing vs. talking) I really am interested in what you offer your clients (if this is where you took offence?). I didn't puruse your site, just looked at your title. You seem to know that there is a difference between design and decorating. I'm just not sure why a lot of people who are decorators don't call themselves that - what's wrong with calling yourself a decorator? Are decorators ashamed of that title or do most not know that there is a difference? I don't know.
Please do not read the tone of my comments as negative - that's not my intention.

I work for a commercial interior design firm. If you want to see some of my work go to:

Anonymous said...

Interior Design musings I didn't see your other comment. I think there is room for both. I just think that that proper identification should be used. If a decorator did a project then they should be id'd as a decorator. If an interior designer did a project they should be id'd as that. I find online and hardcopy publications do not know to make the distinction and interchange these titles constantly (incorrectly). Case in point elle decor this month. Sheila Bridges was the 'interior designer' on an interiors project but collaborated with an architect for moving walls. A qualified interior designer would not need to collaborate, that person would be able to do the whole project (and save the client the architect's fee).

Carly said...

Hi Raina -

I thought the article was most interesting this morning - I think Lonny is streets ahead editorially than its competition (I have 4 yrs experience in women's weekly magazine publishing in the UK, not Shelter mags, but the principles are the same - as well as 2 multimillion pound commercial refurbs under my belt as clientside project mgr - just for those who want titles in relation to all comments!).

However, Lonny's editorial quality aside, I thought Michelle Adams didn't do herself or Lonny any favours. The competition is good - even if the competitors aren't - and that's where she showed her inexperience, or where the NYT journalist sneakily snuck in their personal feelings!

Other than that, not everyone should have a magazine - they often feel like catalogues (excuse my English spelling!) which gets boring, but their infrequency keeps me relatively interested.

What's really inspiring though is that it's so exciting to have free access to overseas online magazines - I also read some Aussie ones. That's where online mags add value - particularly if I can online shop too!

Shoo! Long comment, (sorry!) and I'm devastated that the Lonny crew doesn't come across as well as their magazine - did anyone else think that the article might have changed perceptions of the magazines?


Naomi@DesignManifest said...

Really enjoyed the article. Loved how Michelle Williams calls out the other girls for being fame obsessed. Good stuff. As for the editorial, honestly I don't read them, except for Lonny. It's super annoying to scroll in and out to read the type. For me, its the pretty interiors for inspiration and that's about it.

Great post, Raina!

Raina Cox said...

Carly - Hello and welcome to this deliciousness!

meenal @ maison marigold said...

It is amazing how the nyt article has got a whole section of the online community abuzz today..what with some even taking up cudgels on behalf of the featured online magazines, which however are very happy to announce their debut on the nyt website..the tone and tenor of the article notwithstanding..xx meenal

My Interior Life said...

Wow, just came back and read some of the comments. Re: the back and forth between Design Musings and Anonymous, I can see both sides and understand what both are saying. I'm just making assumptions here, but I think a lot of people adopt the term "designer" because for years there has been a rather pejorative connotation to the term "decorator." For instance, I have a friend who is an interior designer (went to school, got the degree, worked for years on commercial design projects at an architectural firm, etc.). Years ago, she told me that interior designers condescendingly refer to those who "just" decorate as "Dolly Decorators." Rewr. I think people might adopt the term designer (correctly or incorrectly) because of the esteem/cache. I personally find nothing wrong with the term decorator. And, yes, my friend can move walls but she does like to consult with architects too sometimes on larger projects. Maybe that's what Sheila Bridges did. According to her bio, she went to Parson's and I'm assuming it was an interior design degree she got. Anyway. Just find it interesting.

Bri@Meyouandawiener said...

I just want to see pretty pictures damn it!!!

Suzy said...

to be honest, I'm so tired of people complaining about the so called snobbery of magazines like Elle Decor. I read it because of the interiors in it, they are usually beatiful and full of amazing pieces, which to me is inspiration and educational. I'm not really interested in seeing how mr and mrs joe black from middle america (or any other country for that matter) live. maybe that makes me a snob, but thats my humble opinion.

La Boheme said...

Wow Raina, way to get the conversation going! I so enjoyed the article this morning and well...
a) Michelle fron Lonny was a little snarky (but I like her anyway because she really did have a great vision first)
b) I think there is room for other online publications and as with anything, you read what you find interesting/valuable/worth your time
c) I do have higher respect for editors with more experience (writing and design alike) because I want to learn from their magazines, see something fresh...and not just nod and look at what I've already seen. But that said, I get where the more personal approach in some of these online magazines is coming from. But it just still feels like one big party blog, not a magazine.
d) Interior designer vs Decorator - it does matter. Attending respected and accredited school we are learning so much more that people realize. Design degree won't get you "a good eye" but it will train your eye and most importantly will allow you to do more than fluff pillows. It's about people acknowledging interior design as respected profession and not just a DIY hobby. But again, there should be room for both :)

Great questions on your part Raina, addicted to your blog for this exact reason! xoxo

sanctuaryhome said...

Man, I hate it when I am late to the party.

I like online magazines because of their accessibility and their accelerated publishing turnaround. On the other hand, I feel like there is a copy cat phenomenon and somewhat a lack of refinement in these magazines. Where AD and Elle Decor stand the test of time because they show interiors and architecture that are just good design, not usually trendy, I feel that once the Domino/Lonny look is out of vogue, these magazines better reinvent themselves or they will become irrelevant. I also get the impression from some unexplained resignations (I don't remember who) that the editorial staff is a bit of a rag tag group that band together (and bring their egos) with grandiose ideas and not always a clear business plan or clear job descriptions. With the loss of so many great conventional magazines, there is most definitely a void, hopefully the next few years will separate the good from the mediocre, the cutesy and those lacking sophistication or a unique vision.

Most of the posts above have been related to Interior Designers vs. Interior Decorators. I feel this everyday, in some ways I resent those decorators that are working and taking work from those of us that toiled away over our first drafting projects, all nighters learning the difference between a gros point and a matelasse, memorizing building codes and blubbering at the completion of our capstone project as if we had just birthed a baby. I believe there is room in this industry for everyone, as La Boheme said, we just want respect as professionals. I have many design school acquaintances who didn't finish, because while they had a "great eye", they didn't want to give the effort it takes to get the professional credentials, they wanted to be stagers or help their neighbors pick drapery fabrics. While I still take these jobs, projects that are most fufiling are design/build projects with a great collaboration between architect, contractors, designer and client - if you have never seen it in action, it is magic!

Kim said...

Raina, you've hit me where I live. (Background: I have a journalism degree and 15+ years of experience, and migrated from print to online about 5 years ago. At that time I also switched from writing for a trade mag aimed at remodeling contractors to a consumer site about kitchen design.)

My take on your questions:
1) House Beautiful and Elle Decor can feel snobby to consumers who are not design professionals or are starting to explore this area of interest. Their audience is probably a mix of consumers and professionals, as well as a mix of regular subscribers and single-issue buyers. It's a tough balance to educate some without boring others, to inspire some without frightening others, and at the same time to keep the advertisers happy by including enough product coverage to make readers want to buy, buy, buy!

2) I did not know until I began reading design blogs how much "redecorating" is done for design mag shoots. To me, it's acceptable to remove the clutter of daily life, rearrange accessories, get fresh flowers, etc., and "stage" the shot. To create an imaginary scene that doesn't express the way the homeowner lives or how the designer envisioned the space seems like a flat-out lie. How do you even write credible editorial around that?

3) A large blog following is not a mandate to publish. It's a hope that by publishing in a more formal manner - resembling the print, but without the expense of paper, printing & mailing - they can monetize that following. I'm very curious as to the online mags' business models, actual profits, net v. gross, and if they turn a consistent profit or just happened to be doing well the week that the reporter asked the question.

4) Not many people actually read in any kind of thoughtful, thorough manner online. And people can look at tons of great photos via Google images. (Of course, those aren't edited/curated, but still...) Where an online media can change behavior is through interaction, whether video, interactive tools, live chats, etc.

Nick Klaus said...

Excellent questions Raina! (as always) There's so many conflicting thoughts in my head, and I think Petra brought up a number of good points, too.

I have a digital camera, so I think I'm one of those people who's become an amateur photographer taking money away from the professionals. I've taken photos at friends' weddings, but I'm by no means highly trained - I only took a couple photography classes in college. My knowledge came from experimenting and reading a lot of blogs about how to take better photos.

I feel the same way about interior design. My only "experience" is in reading lots of blogs every day. I know what I like, I know what I dislike. I wouldn't call myself a designer, and so I don't. I just blog because I like it.

I also like that the internet leads to all these smaller online-only magazines. The costs are lower, so why not let the smaller and newer online magazines fight it out and see which ones survive? It very neatly separates the magazines backed by substance from the magazines fueled only by ambition and 'me too'-ism. Maybe in contrast online mags make ED and HB feel snobby, but it's underdogs vs the established publications. Maybe online magazines are still trying to push the idea that they're run by ordinary people and not lofty, well-respected experts.

Inspired Mrs. Stevens said...

I do admire anybody who follows their own dreams and such. Lonny is so fortunate to be the pioneer yet all the followers, Rue, High Gloss and others really do offer a refreshing take on design. It's always amazing to see women with small roots blossom, it inspires all of us. As bloggers to start with, they sort of know where we're coming from. There's a sense that these editors are not out of reach. Although, I hope, fame, or whatever you call it, doesn't change them. Some used to answer e-mails and now they don't, busy perhaps? Anywho, I know it may sound like a gripe but I hope they understand that the idea of not being seen as snobby or too out of reach reflects in their actions everyday, whoever they're communicating with.
I think Grace {Bonney} quoting Tina Fey was right. We can all flourish together with our own uniqueness and creativity. Underdog or superdog, as creative women we're all beautiful.

Raina Cox said...

Inspired Mrs. Stevens - Hello and welcome to this deliciousness!

Erin said...

Obviously one does not require a formal education to rise to the pinnacle of their profession (and I say this as a formally trained photographer with a terminal degree who is hopelessly outclassed by many more talented "amateurs"), but it's a rare bird who can make it without a solid, consciously earned foundation.

Most of these online magazines are ersatz competitors for even the basest print shelter mags. And maybe one or two will flourish and gain access to better stylists, photographers, writers, etc... and then maybe they'll get a print deal.

Bromeliad said...

Love those four little letters - FREE. That's why I don't have any complaints about the online products. U get what u pay for.