Just as physicists want to ponder the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the study of physics, we wonder why age/sex plays should play such a central role in all types of media usage. The gender division obvious reflects the gap that continues to exist; it is by no means clear where the future lies, because this gap is due partially to the continuation of historical inequities and also partially due to different needs that may be based on biological differences (e.g. magazines that deal with motherhood). The age division reflects the fact that the different generations have different experiences as well as different needs and interests.
The truism of ‘different generations have different experiences as well as different needs and interests’ can be turned on its head to refer to media researchers, for whom the explanation of media usage behavior is a central issue. The traditional pivoting around age/sex has exhausted its gyrations over time, so along came fashionable notions such as psychographics, gratification needs and so on. But it is doubtful that any of these alternative hypotheses can produce a series of correspondence maps as powerful and consistent as we have seen here for age/sex.
Magazines in Britain are mainly published by a few dominant companies. Publishing, like all media industries is a phenomenon of convergence, cross-media ownership and oligopoly (a small cluster of bodies controlling the large market).
Being purely descriptive, we can say that magazines have colour covers, are generally glossy, and publish weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly or bi-annually. There are fiction and non-fiction varieties and they appeal to mass audiences or nice audiences. Most magazines have a specific target audience, often a particular age and gender group attached to a hobby, interest or lifestyle choice. In fact, if we believe that media audience groups present an accurate view of the demographics of our society, we could identify the kinds of people living at any one time by the magazines on offer.
Although by this stage in a media course you should be sceptical about such ‘transparent’ ideas about media representation!
To be analytical, rather than just descriptive about magazines, you need to understand the following:
1. What the conventions of magazines are and whether these can be organised into genres / sub-genres. How is this related to target audience?
2. Who own the magazines and publishes them?
3. What is the relationship between editorial content and advertising in magazines?
Choose a magazine that you read either regularly or occasionally and, using one edition for close reading, see what you can say in response to the three questions above.
Look at the range of magazines on offer (a trip to a large newsagent with a pen and paper may be the quickest way to do this) and list items under the genre and sub-genre. Can you think of any group of people for whom there is a gap in the market? If so, identify the gap in editorial terms (what would the magazine offer in terms of articles, information and features) and then consider the kids of products and services that might be usefully advertised in the magazine.
In the early days of magazines, the cover price raised enough money for a profit. But as more magazines emerged, competition meant less sales for individual titles. When the tax on advertising was removed in the 1850s, the cover prices were lowered so that the revenue from sales did not even cover the costs of production. The reason was simple – the majority of revenue could be accrued from advertising.
Advertisers use figures from the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) and the NRS (National Readership Survey) to gauge which magazines to use. In addition, the publisher’s materials (most magazines have a pack for advertisers) break down the figures into groups of people and make bold claims for the importance of the title in the lives of the readers. It is essential to send off for one of these for a magazine you are studying or to download it from the magazine or publisher website – they are invaluable in encapsulating the identity the tile wants to have, especially when it relates to a gender and age group.
The thousands of magazines that are available have different functions. Some are related to specific business areas, trades or work practices. Others are related to hobbies or interests. Some are broadly speaking, consumer-focused and some are entertainment-based, although the latter usually relate closely to particular kinds of consumption, whether it is music, film or football.
As well as targeting age and gender groups, or occupation / interests, magazines also appeal to a particular socio-economic groups. However, this is rather a blunt instrument when it comes to categorising people and the following section comes with a disclaimer!
The socio-economic groups are labelled A, B, C1, C2, D and E. They refer to people’s occupations, economic status, education and background. While we all know that labelling people into ‘types’ in this way is hardly accurate because it masses people’s individual tastes and interests, advertisers have used this system for years and it therefore has some validity. (The system is based on an official classification method used until recently by the Government’s Registrar General).
As well as this blunt way of categorising people, magazine publishers and editors and all the advertisers they rely on use segmentation to cluster us into seven groups: succeeders, aspirers, carers, achievers, radicals, traditionalists and underachievers. They also define us in terms of our opinions and values, whether we be traditionalist, materialist, hedonist, post-materialist or post-modernist.
A magazine might be launched to attract young female hedonist B and C1 aspirers! Or middle-aged male traditionalist achievers A and B.
These notions of the audience depend on substantial research to test consumption, lifestyle habits, tastes and responses to issues. The media in general often seem preoccupied with trends, scrutinising what we think, eat, buy and worry about, then categorising us with new labels such as ‘ladette’, ‘spice girl’, ‘new man’ or ‘new lad’.
This does not only involve the young. Other labels coined in recent years have included ‘the oldie’ and ‘middle youth’. Advertisers in particular are aware of the fact that, because we now live longer and remain healthier and more mobile into our senior years, there is a whole new sector of society emerging, the ‘young-minded older person’.
The simple questions to consider are whether magazines show us the real world, reflect our interests and concerns and whether the people they feature represent us.
It is argued that magazines collectively form an encyclopaedia of insecurities about health, lifestyle, looks, body image, success, material wealth and relationships. Therefore, a well-balanced person has no need for magazines.
The fact is that hardly any of is look like the men and women we see in Men’s Health and Elle.
The variety of shapes and colours that people come in are not represented by these titles. The rise of male grooming products reflects a new market of narcissistic men to whom advertisers can promote their cosmetic products, playing on the kinds of anxieties that have traditionally been women’s property.
The focus of this topic is gender and the debate we are considering is the extent to which men’s and women’s magazines construct ideas about gender rather than just reflect them.
Like all of the topics on the OCR Issues and Debates paper, this is an area where strong feelings and disagreements should be common among your peers. Some of you may be of the mind that ‘men are from Mars, women from Venus’ and that magazines simply appeal to our different gendered ideas and tastes. While others may think that without the media’s perpetuation of old-fashioned sexist ideas about women, females have a stronger stake in society. Much of the discussion is concerned with the nature-nurture debate’.