You can always tell when rumors begin that a new publication is entering the media market in Big D, because the cancer-loving sales staff at the Dallas Observer doubles its number of smoke breaks.
And were you to drive by the back side of the Observer's downtown offices these days, you'd see many smartly dressed salespeople inhaling rich tobacco flavor at an impressive rate. That's because the media market in Big D is abuzz with the thought that a new high-end newspaper with deep pockets is about to roll out. And even though its target advertisers and readers aren't exactly in the Observer's wheelhouse, that doesn't mean the salespeople on the other end of the building who have to make Lexus payments aren't sweating.
The product (first mentioned on D magazine's Web site last week) is called Get It. It is being produced by The Dallas Morning News. It will be a monthly publication that competes primarily with PaperCity, as well as with a new Neiman Marcus-produced magazine and somewhat with specialty publications produced by D, such as D Home. All these products--and it's really more accurate to call them products rather than publications, given the latter term's association with the act of "reading"--are aimed, to borrow a phrase from D Home editor and publisher Christine Allison, at "the $50,000 chandelier set." In other words, there soon will be even more magazines kissing rich snow-white ass in an effort to express their First Amendment rights to run Cartier ads.
(Given that this publication prefers to rattle and annoy said rich butt rather than fondle it, I don't know why our ad people are freaked. I don't think any of these fete-set media are going after The Bone as an advertiser, and as for our readers, I don't believe the "$50,000 car-speaker set" exists. But, long as the paycheck keeps cashin', you sales folks can worry in any manner you please.)
Now, this all sounds terribly exciting. New publication, set to do battle with others for the pocketbooks of the Park Cities. What will Angie Harmon make of it all?
Except that no one is really sure if Get It will even be produced. In fact, Laura Gordon, the head of the new products division of the Morning News, says emphatically that any talk about Get It is premature, that the product is still very much in the development stage. "Everyone here is very focused on Al Dia [the Spanish-language daily set to debut later this year] right now," she says. "However, it is safe to say that new products is an area the entire company is putting more and more emphasis on."
Which means what? Well, it means that even though packets explaining the product to potential advertisers have been sent around town, the News views those more as focus-group material designed to gauge advertiser feedback than a blueprint of exactly what Get It will be.
At least that's what Gordon says, and I buy that to an extent. Most publications are produced back-assward these days, finding out what advertisers want to buy and then tailoring a publication to fit that. It's why most new publications have all the soul of a Hilary Duff concert.
But just because the idea is unsettled doesn't mean there hasn't already been a lot of thought put into what the product most likely will be. In fact, the information I've seen contains advertising rates and explanations of what the content will focus on. As well, it describes both sections of the product. (Get It will also contain the section titled Get Out. My suggestion for a seedier third section of the paper is, of course, Get Off.) And they've already bought the Web site--go to www.getitdallas.com and you'll see it's linked to the front page of the DMN--that will someday house this pub on the Internet.
So, we will duly note that all this is speculation based on information that Gordon says is far too premature. But, given our fresh attitude and honest approach to life, we will also say, sorry, but we like to engage in just such speculation.
First, let's more fully define what we think Get It will be and look at the marketplace it's trying to burrow into. For that, we look to the mock-ups and promotional materials being floated around town.
"Enter Get It, Dallas' essential guidebook to all things stylish, smart and chic," the proposal says. It also makes the salient point that "since life isn't all [emphasis not added] about shopping, there's also Get Out, which takes Get It's same fresh attitude and honest approach to life's other pleasures: food, drink, nightlife, travel. You'll not only know where to go, but who to take, when to arrive and what to wear." In other words, they will try to make the vacant yet fun activities of shopping, partying and drinking alcohol seem harmless and sophisticated. Like most other "high-end" pubs do.
Me, I got no problem with this. The Morning News wants the ad dollars associated with glossy party pics and vapid, innocuous, ball-less service pieces--fine. Seriously. I don't think this will devalue their journalism. Honestly.
Dammit, I'm serious. Look at my face: no sarcasm. Bottom line is, I like to read airy blurbs about new styles and look at pretty pictures of sloshed debutantes as much as the next person.
But to really do that well in your publication, you have to have two usually incompatible qualities. First, you have to be smart enough to put out a print product. Second, your DNA must be in such a unique sequence that you are, for some unknown reason, completely unashamed of the dumb content you're producing. I don't know that the folks at the News have both those qualities.
The folks at PaperCity have their doubts, too. Jim Kastleman, the publisher and owner of Houston-based PaperCity, says he's not too concerned yet with Get It. "We've seen a lot of people try to pull off similar publications," he says. "We'll let the market decide who wants to read what."
Kastleman does note, however, that Belo's size means they'll be a player no matter how the product will be received by the chandelier set, for he knows that they have their eyes on the upscale market's fat wallets. "We don't mint money, but we do well," he says. "They will be happy they have Belo's deep pockets to make it in this soft market. It's a risky time to be trying it."
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Kastleman says there appears to be a distinct difference between the type of reader Get It will be trying to attract. "If you look at their media kit," he says, "they are going after a much younger, much less affluent market. This is kind of bizarre, but I'm sure they thought this through."
Wait a minute. Younger. No chandeliers. Bizarre?
Holy crap. They are going after Observer readers. No wonder those chain-smokers on the sales side are wigging out.
Time to panic, ladies! Put your cigs down and sell, sell, sell!