AC During the 2000s, style magazines were catalysers of influence. According to you, what changed for these magazines with the arrival of digital?
MX Everything changed. Overall, magazines have lost the war; let’s not lie to each other… Because the digital age means the arrival of the internet in general. Before, brands absolutely needed magazines like Purple, Self Service etc., to be seen in cool areas and by a certain population, who were not all their consumers, but who were the opinion leaders who were going to help them get things rolling. Suddenly, they had another option, to switch to digital, which made it possible to see how a campaign was received. Then, no longer able to cheat with made-up stats, magazines tried to reassert the value of their readership: ‘It might not be so big, but it’s super selective.’
AC Brands changed tack…
MX They regained power and stopped paying 60,000 Euros for 14 pages of ArmanI advertorial, with ArmanI credited in 6 point on the last one! Above all, they said to themselves: it’s great, people respond to our content, we see if they share it, if it’s good or bad buzz, how much time they spend on it… On the web, magazines began making “snackable” content, which means promoting each article as much as the cover, because each article has a good eye-catching, clickable image and a catchy title (though not necessarily honest regarding its content). This meant that it was necessary to completely rethink content in order for it to meet its reader, and then to sell that content and that reader to an advertiser.
AC Magazines thought it was easy to switch the content they produced for paper online…
MX Except that it’s not at all the same way of conceiving content. The content of a biannual magazine was above all conceived to be outside of time, in beautiful lay-outs, which were extremely difficult to reproduce on a website. We lost the aesthetic quality, not to mention the paper. Then we also realized that people functioned differently with their phones: they wanted news, they had to be first, so this timeless content became very hard to adapt. Then when you add the concentration time in front of a telephone – between 1 minute and 1 minute 30 – long interviews didn’t work any more.
for millennials, there is not noble information on one hand and vulgar communication on the other. In the end, what they want to see are beautiful images, beautiful content, cool videos
AC At the same time, the media struggles to find a digital business model.
MX Especially because the fashion press once proposed a prestigious presence, and now it sells endless banners, and not necessarily to glamorous brands. Then came the ad-blockers, which means that even with some loyal traffic, only half would see the ads. Fortunately, the other half agree that this is the only way to pay journalists. But even when selling expensive advertising space on a site, which might pay rent and some salaries, it’s not profitable.
AC And so websites, of magazines but not only, told themselves that they would make brand content.
MX Indeed, they soon realized that they had to come up with new resources and, concretely, earn some money. Quite cleverly, they said to themselves: I’m going to make a showcase website, I’m not going to work with cheap brands, I’m only going to do chic stuff, I’m going to work with Chanel, with Hermès, a bit of LVMH, a little Kering, so that my site remains a beautiful showcase. I’m not going to harass my readers with ads so that they come back, and I’m going to do brand content at the same time, to have a good source of income. In fact, it’s important to remain independent and to create a stylish platform, with a little advertising all the same, because it’s important to show that people follow the site, then behind that, produce something strong enough to be able to make beautiful brand content which makes it possible to finance the rest if necessary.
AC What style magazines were already doing with advertorials…
MX Exactly, we come back to the same thing. With less ethical problems since, from the moment you’re not selling drugs to African children, we know very well that the people who read us have enough perspective to guess that it’s an advertorial.
AC Ethics forever! So magazines have in part taken the form of agencies…
MX Of course. There are the content agencies that help brands to editorialize their social networks, but it can go right up to the advertising agency. Which many publishers do: Vice, and even Condé Nast – who has just announced the launch of its agency in London, and they really call it an “advertising agency” – have made the leap. But the same could be said of Numero and Mazarine. Which also means that today, facing a brand, BETC finds itself in competition with cool magazines.
an online fashion series, because it is scrolled, is useless after 8 images
AC Let’s change perspective: do you think luxury brands are on the ball with their social networks?
MX Not at all, it’s a disaster!
AC How do you explain this, since they have the insight to understand where things are happening, especially in fashion photography?
MX It’s complicated… First of all, with digital, we’ve created monsters that allow brands to sell, to have clickable links, including on Instagram. They can trace people, search for someone who has visited their site and find him or her on Facebook, Instagram, or with a pop-up ad on a site. Specifically, they have created telescopic fishing rods that go in all directions, but they must be anchored somewhere; so on networks, platforms… Which means that you have to feed the monster, and give him a lot to eat, because he is hungry, he eats at set times, and you can’t just produce two or three beautiful creative assets then loop them for 6 months. It’s necessary to multiply the content.
AC Yet this is not beyond brands’ means.
MX No, but a question of psychology and of process. The brand must accept to no longer function with the beautiful asset with the big director, the big production company; like the Cartier panther ad, validated by ten floors and made by as many people. In other words, a very luxurious thing, very pyramidal and descending, delivering this beautiful message, like the Holy Spirit, once every 6 months. Today, we can’t go through the same validation process, we must trust a team, people who are not necessarily close to the creative director but who know the market and their tool, and who know how these platforms must communicate. Except that these people are often too young for the too-old people in management to trust them. As a result, they can’t produce the right content and it’s often a bit nerdy.
today style magazines with a rich website and a real readership possess immense knowledge and know exactly how to turn a reader into a consumer
AC But isn’t luxury an industry of rarity, which doesn’t function well when it communicates so frequently, even on social networks?
MX I don’t think it’s incompatible; it’s not one or the other, but one and the other. It’s only the way of speaking that must be homogenized. Luxury brands can communicate often; they just have to find the tone. And unfortunately they are very often out of sync; or they try to be young and it doesn’t work. Then, beyond the social networks, brand websites have almost become magazines, and that was the ultimate provocation with the arrival of digital, when the brands began to regain power and to win the power struggle with magazines, meaning implicitly: I’m going to make a magazine of my brand, I no longer need you to interpret my content. Well, that was the declared goal; the reality is that very often they made a bit of a mess of it, and it’s not great. Those who are doing well, surprisingly, are the multi-brand resellers: Mr Porter, Net-à-Porter, Matchesfashion… they are followed by a lot of people and have a pretty mind-blowing number of clicks. They produce some really respectable stuff and, for e-commerce, they produce images that are at the level or even above of many fashion series by online magazines.
AC These sites are often considered as sub-Vogues, which they themselves do not deny…
MX But their readers, who are not so educated, don’t care! And frankly, it’s not as if Vogue Paris was still inspiring and told us stylish stories…
AC On magazines’ Instagram accounts, the boundary between editorial content and content created for a brand is disappearing…
MX In some countries like Germany or the United States, it is, at last, hyper-legislated. There has been so much abuse, even the New York Times got caught, but they are now obliged to put ‘*this is a sponsored post’. In France, it’s still hazy, but we will get there, that’s for sure. I think magazines that still trap their readers with disguised advertorials are wrong, especially because the younger generation of consumers no longer has a problem with the advertorial. As long as the thing is well done, the association with the brand makes sense and that the talent is quite consistent with what is said, it doesn’t bother anyone. If one announces it directly, the reader can take it very well and, at a push, one can transform a potential hater into a minI leader of opinion, who will be the first to want to share it.
AC The distinction between information and communication is therefore obsolete and who is talking is no longer a question…
MX If we point out the problem, they will understand the difference between a magazine and a brand. But in reality, they don’t care. For millennials, everything is on the same level; there is not noble information on one hand and vulgar communication on the other. In the end, what they want to see are beautiful images, beautiful content, cool videos…
and we realize that it would be nice to talk more about cinema because, oddly, it interests readers a lot more than fashion subjects because, let’s be honest, no one cares about fashion
AC So independent press is a very 20th-century idea…
MX Above all, we forget the question of data. Luxury stores have regular customers, and since they’ve had computers at the checkout – for about twenty years – they haven’t been recording data, except perhaps postal addresses. And now they wake up in a panic! They could have known what countries their customers were traveling to, what they were buying… which is very valuable information for increasing sales. So the brands were late, the magazines didn’t know their readers very well, and the digital age changed the game. We know who reads us and, for each article, how people react. And we realize that it would be nice to talk more about cinema because, oddly, it interests readers a lot more than fashion subjects because, let’s be honest, no one cares about fashion! Even for style magazines that work well online today, fashion only represents 15-20% max of their traffic. So, we adapt the content and the editorial balance.
AC This knowledge of the audience also opens other perspectives…
MX Indeed, it allows you to go to the brands and say, “No, you don’t know. I do. Every day, I post 5 to 10 things, and I know in real time how people have reacted, shared, watched, ignored…” With geographic, demographic, and ethnographic data, you can hit a very specific target based on the demand of a brand. And if we could help brands reach their target and put their money in the right place, then we can offer them brand content. So today style magazines with a rich website and a real readership possess immense knowledge and know exactly how to turn a reader into a consumer.
AC So, online, a magazine produces content to give its readers what they expect. Now, it seems to me that part of the job is to give them what they do not expect.
MX It’s true, there is no longer room for this experimentation. Fortunately, some courageous editors who still have a little editorial ambition defend this space, that the brands are still happy to rediscover from time to time, and where you can publish content that has a long life. Because an online fashion series, because it is scrolled, is useless after 8 images… Above all, it allows the editor to send a portfolio to the offices of directors of communications every 6 months to remind them of his poor little existence, how he makes such great content, and that it would be nice to call him back for a little consulting job… And if you’re really snobbish, you don’t send it, you tell people, “Go buy my portfolio”.
AC Indeed, although today public attention is now mainly focused on social media, publishers continue publishing in print. How to explain this?
MX Because luxury feeds on objects, it needs boxes to present things, because from time to time we still want to see Steven Meisel’s sublime advertising campaigns on a double page and on nice paper. Because magazines also still need to run the dream machine – and that goes via the big photographers, who are still the last snobs of this industry not to want to work for digital. They know very well that they are seen 10 times more on digital, but they do not care to be seen, what they want is their work to be very well produced.
AC How do you imagine the specificity of print tomorrow? Less and better?
MX Indeed, I think that the beautiful press will resist. Magazines like Double, even Purple will resist, because it’s something we can’t find elsewhere; we will really be in the reign of the magazine. On the other hand, all the weeklies… we will stop razing forests for nothing, that’s for sure!
AC With the decline of the press, we lose a collaborative dimension. How do you see the evolution of the artistic director’s job in the digital context?
MX We can no longer rely on the training of this or that famous school. On a site designed with a specific architecture that can’t be changed at will, the intervention of the artistic director, in terms of graphics and layout, is quite minimal. He is there to find young photographers who agree to shoot in digital, but who do not shoot badly and don’t ask for too much money. As we come out of this pyramidal model of a discourse by exceptional people who address everyone, he must also find cool little talents for the social networks. And if in addition the guy doesn’t write too badly, and can produce a presentation from time to time, he’ll ask the photographer to write a catchy pitch and little intro; then it’s just perfect…