When a 21-year-old Cindi Leive arrived on the scene at Glamour magazine in 1988, she’d just wrapped up an internship at the legendary literary journal, The Paris Review, a publication robust with cultural vitality and consequence. At the time, the newly minted Swarthmore grad was sure that her editorial gig at the woman’s glossy would be a short stop on her way to greater heights. “I admit,” she said at Swarthmore’s annual McCabe Lecture last year, “that I joined women’s magazines with some of the prejudice that one might expect from a graduate fresh out of seminars like Feminist Interpretation of Scripture. I thought the job would be fun and fluffy, and an easy thing to do before I went on to the truly important work of my life.”
Instead, the Condé Nast powerhouse and its rich milieu of brainy editors made a quick convert of Leive. Twenty-four years later, with a brief but influential interlude as editor-in-chief of Self, where Leive increased circulation by 11 percent in just two years, Glamour has become her magnum opus. At 34, she became the iconic magazine’s editor-in-chief, a post she’s prosperously held for the past eleven years (and counting.) Under her editorship, Glamour‘s circulation has risen to an historical peak at 2.25 million and reaches a staggering 17 million readers each month. During her tenure, the magazine has garnered nine National Magazine Award nominations and won four, including the top honor, Magazine of the Year in 2010.
But like other publications, Glamour has taken some hits from a slow-to-recover economy, and according to The New York Times, newsstand sales sank 17 percent through June of 2011 and 9.9 percent during the second half of that year, compelling Leive, a former president of ASME, to shake things up.
In March, she revamped the 73-year-old monthly, souping it up with advertiser-loving beauty and fashion pages. And in an effort to attract a younger demographic, the sought-after “Millennials,” Leive amplified visuals and first person narratives. Glamour’s inaugural self-expression issue–the January issue–is decidedly edgier with personal essays by media mavericks like Jane Pratt of xoJane.com (founder of the exquisite Sassy!), the creator and writer of MTV’s Awkward, Lauren Iungerich and the daring Jennifer Livingston, a Wisconsin TV anchor, who used airtime to address and challenge an email hater who knocked her for her weight.
This week, The Slant nabbed a Q&A with Leive to discuss the machinations behind retooling her well-established brand, the me-me-me centricity of social media (Is it a cultural phase or has our society fundamentally changed?) and the fate of the written word in our visually-obsessed culture.
Who is the new Glamour reader and which celebrities epitomize her?
I don’t think there’s one celeb who epitomizes the Glamour reader. There’s no one ANYTHING—this generation is too diverse and into being their own unique selves. I think Anne Hathaway, our current cover girl, comes close! But our readers are into everyone from Lena Dunham to Lady Gaga to Adele to Kate Middleton. I would say the common denominator is that they like women who are being themselves—women who have done things their way. That’s the new ideal for anyone under 30.
We’ve read that the new iterations of Glamour will spotlight more “everyday-women” alongside models and celebrities. It seems especially zeitgeist-y given the popularity of reality T.V. and social media where every-day-Janes can achieve a measure of fame or popularity, even if it’s only within her own network. Do you think our society will eventually reject our self-obsessing (via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)? Or has our society fundamentally changed?
I don’t think the tidal wave of self-expression will roll back—I think we’ve permanently moved from a day when the media was produced by Other People to this day, when it’s personal and produced by YOU, the reader. That said, of course I think how we use it will evolve. I think we’ve already hit a tipping point with the more banal uses of Twitter. No one wants to hear a celeb tweeting that they’re on the toilet. The real action in social media right now is around opinion and point of view. I will also say that I think one thing young women love about Pinterest and Instagram is the relative absence of snark and meanness. You generally feel better, not worse, after spending time there.
The EVP and Publishing Director of Glamour, Bill Wackermann, told Ad Week, “[Millennials] are interested in constant change, constant expression.” How does a magazine, especially one as iconic and well established as Glamour, accommodate the desire for constant change without diluting or confusing its brand?
A smart magazine has always had to change fast to survive—it’s like Woody Allen’s shark; you have to move forward or you die. We just have to move forward faster now, because the rate of change is faster. Magazines have to be fast-swimming sharks these days. The trick is to change the topics that you cover without changing the fundamental DNA of the brand and its key attributes. No reader wants a magazine that redesigns every month. But you want the conversation to be different. The DNA of Glamour is that we are the conversation women have when guys aren’t around—that stays fundamental, but the topics we’re talking about change.
This past February, Eric Wilson of The New York Times noted that features are now written more often in the first person. He said that you “wanted to drop the idea of a ‘house voice,’ always there to scoop in with big-sisterly advice.” Why did that “big-sisterly” voice become passé? Are first-person stories more compelling? What’s behind that?
We live in a more first-person culture now. I wanted the magazine to reflect that. And readers have loved it. In our January issue, you can hear from everybody from Kelly Osbourne to Jane Pratt to MTV’s Lauren Iungerich to Jennifer Livingston, the Wisconsin TV anchor who took down her weight haters on air. Even in our cover story, you hear not just from Anne Hathaway, but her interviewer, Eve Ensler. All those voices in one place—who doesn’t want to go to that party?
Traditionally, Glamour has stood apart from the snark, sarcasm and mean-spirited humor found in other popular media outlets with its old-fashioned earnestness. But we’ve heard that Glamour seeks to appeal to young women like those on the HBO hit, Girls. But the “cooler-than-thou” ethos of Girls seems to go against the magazine’s DNA. Is the magazine ushering in even more editorial changes that we’ve not seen yet to appeal to an irreverent or edgier audience like Girls?
We’re NOT mean-spirited, but I don’t think we have to be. I actually don’t think Girls is snarky or mean-spirited. Those girls are on a real quest trying to make themselves happy. When Hannah and Marnie are dancing in their apartment at the end of a night, that’s not mean-spirited or sarcastic—that’s an awesome girlfriend moment, and very Glamour.
Glamour.com has become more image and video-based and the new site looks great. We wonder, though: what’s the cost to the written word? It seems that all forms of media are conforming to our society’s ever-shortening attention spans and the non-reading millennial masses.
Our culture HAS become more visual. On Glamour.com, we’ve never really done super-long stories to begin with, but that doesn’t mean our coverage is fluffy—we get a lot of pickup around political items we do on our Conversation blog. But in print, I think readers do still want long-form stories—something to curl up with. They just want those balanced by amazing visuals. We’ll make sure we have a couple of great reads in every issue, but we’ll also make sure that we have some stories (health pieces, beauty, Dos & Don’ts, etc) that can be told solely through the pictures. That’s what I want in a magazine now personally, and I think readers feel the same.