Unbecoming Southern Living…

This is a reprint of my Mr. Magazine blog entry found on http://www.mrmagazine.wordpress.com
Let me know what you think?

In a land not far far away there used to be a great magazine called Southern Living. It was the pride and joy of these Southern United States. It had three corner stones that anchored the bar stool called Southern Living magazine. They all started with an S: Southern, Seasonal and Service. The magazine was filled with recipes, more than a 100 in some issues. Folks from all around the South knew it was Southern Living from its yellow logo and predictable covers. In December it was a white cake; in October the fall leaves and pumpkins welcoming the Fall. In April the purple flowers and in November, what else but a festive Thanksgiving buffet. Those were the days. There was no fashion, no beauty, no frills or thrills. Just seasonal southern service. The Soul of the South was inside the magazine, not only on the cover.

What happened to Southern Living? A redesign after redesign inched one step after the other away from its southern roots. The covers became as unpredictable as the southern weather. The recipes dwindled to a few. And to top it all off, this month ushers a new section focusing on looks, fashion and beauty. The killer is an article about blow drying your hair, exercising and losing inches all at the same time. This is NOT the Southern Living I have known for the last 27 years. This is not the magazine that most of my friends knew and loved. It is definitely NOT your mother’s magazine anymore, but it is also NOT your daughter’s magazine.

Southern Living has lost its soul. It is anything but southern. It is a shame to see a great magazine become so un-southern. The only solace is in the fact that there are a few folks publishing in the same town as Southern Living (in the not so far far away land), who are trying and succeeding in filling the void left by the magazine.

This is a cry from the heart, a first for me, to bring back Southern Living. Bring back the Southern in the Living. There are plenty of women’s magazines that deal with fashion, beauty and other lifestyle issues, but there used to be one and only one Southern Living. Bring it back, please.

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About Samir Husni

Samir Husni, aka Mr. Magazine™, is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. He is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer of Journalism at the School of Journalism and New Media. Dr. Husni is the author of the annual Samir Husni's Guide to New Magazines, which is now in its 28th year. He is also the author of Launch Your Own Magazine: A Guide for Succeeding in Today's Marketplace published by Hamblett House, Inc. and Selling Content: The Step-by-Step Art of Packaging Your Own Magazine, published by Kendall Hunt, Magazine Publishing in the 21st Century, published by Kendall Hunt, and co-author of Design Your Own Magazine. He has presented seminars on trends in American magazines to the editorial, advertising and sales staff of the magazine groups of the Morris Communications Company, Hearst Corp., Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, Meredith Corp., Reader's Digest Magazine, ESPN the magazine, Sail Magazine, American Airlines Publishing, the National Geographic Society, the Swedish magazine group Bonnier, the Finnish magazine group Sanoma Magazines, Southern Progress magazines, New South Publishing, Inc., the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Magazine Editors, Vance Publishing Corporation, the Florida Magazine Association, The Magazine Association of Georgia, the National Society of Black Journalists, the Japanese Magazine Publishers Association, and the American Press Institute. He is "the country's leading magazine expert," according to Forbes ASAP magazine, "the nation's leading authority on new magazines," according to min:media industry newsletter; and The Chicago Tribune dubbed him "the planet's leading expert on new magazines." Dr. Husni has been interviewed by major U.S. media on subjects related to the magazine industry. He has been profiled and is regularly quoted in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and many other newspapers nationwide, as well as the major newsweeklies and a host of trade publications. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, CNNFN, PBS, and on numerous radio talk shows including National Public Radio's Morning and Weekend Editions. Dr. Husni has also served as an expert witness in several lawsuits involving major media corporations including Time Inc. and American Express Publishing among others. He has been a judge of The National Magazines Awards, The Evangelical Magazines Association, The City and Regional Magazines Association, and The Florida and Georgia Magazine Association Awards. Dr. Husni is the President and CEO of Magazine Consulting & Research, a firm specializing in new magazine launches, repositioning of established magazines, and packaging publications for better sales and presentations. Dr. Husni holds a doctorate in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in journalism from the University of North Texas. When he is not in his office reading magazines, Dr. Husni is at the newsstands buying magazines.
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16 Responses to Unbecoming Southern Living…

  1. Markus Simmons says:

    I think the Southern Living debacle is a prime example of the importance of reaching a target audience. As Dr. Husni stated, “There are plenty of women’s magazines that deal with fashion, beauty and other lifestyle issues, but there used to be one and only one Southern Living.” Said magazines are all going for the same target market and are splitting circulation in some way. Southern Living’s movement toward a more fashion, beauty, etc.-centered magazine is clearly an attempt to break into that target market, but in doing so S.L. has abandoned the wants of the readers who have kept it afloat for the past 27 years. Ultimately, we’re talking about an intelligent, business-minded company that will continue to thrive just as it has for the last three decades. The question is what will it take to convince Southern Living to return to their winning ways: the current pleas of their long-term readers or a decrease in circulation and, therefore, revenue.

  2. Elizabeth Pearson says:

    For as long as I can remember, Southern Living has set on the coffee table at my home here in Mississippi. I’ve cooked the recipes with grandmother. I’ve read the articles about southern culture and people. For me, this magazine has been big part of my family living in the South, but I feel as if they are drifting away from their audience and their interest. Sure, many people are interested in beauty and well being, but I don’t see where it fits into Southern Living. They can receive this information from other magazines. Explain to me what is “so southern” about beauty and exercise?? It can be done anywhere not just in the South. Also, You can read about it in any other magazine not just in Southern Living. I really think they need to reconsider their audience and adhere to what they do best: southern recipes and culture that cannot be found anywhere but the South. Southern Living will kill itself with this image.

  3. Erin Duff says:

    For me, Southern Living has always been a magazine that deals with what Southerners love best: food, family, and entertaining friends the Southern way. I was born and raised in the South and love the fact that I am a “Southern girl.” The fact that Southern Living has taken a detour from its original vision is really distressing to me. My favorite part in Southern Living was looking at the recipes and cutting out the ones that I found appealing. I liked reading the articles and being able to see the Southern culture coming through. It was one of my favorite magazines and a staple that could probably be found in most Southern homes.
    Now, it’s incorporated workout routines and beauty tips. All those things are great, but I didn’t love Southern Living because that was part of its original content. I liked Southern Living because it wasn’t part of the content. It seems to me that Southern Living is trying to conform to what it thinks people want to read about. It’s trying to please the majority while leaving its original following with the only option of accepting something they didn’t sign up for. Why change something that was doing so well? Reading about exercise and beauty tips can be found in virtually every other magazine. It doesn’t belong in Southern Living!

  4. Elizabeth White says:

    It’s so disappointing to me to observe what has happened to Southern Living. Personally, I feel that the magazine got wrapped up in the current of change sweeping through the magazine industry and did not take the time to step back and realize that maybe they were in the perfect spot all along. During my time as a journalism student and intern for various publications, I’ve really learned the importance of finding your niche market and sticking to it. When looking at the way Southern Living has slowly turned away from its niche market, all I can think of is “Why mess with success??” Frankly, it makes no sense to me. Hopefully the editors of the magazine will realize that there is nothing wrong with their roots and getting back to that will ensure them long lived success. And, let’s be serious here, the photo of the woman blow drying her hair while doing squats is just plain humorous- who is going to take that seriously???

    • Ren Turner says:

      I don’t really care about Southern Living as a magazine. They can shoot their own foot if they want to. What happened to the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”?
      What disturbs me is how the south is being perceived by the publishers of this magazine, and therefore the rest of the country. I mean, this is utterly the most offensive thing I have ever seen a magazine publish.
      They are suggesting that the south is a place where people actually do crazy stuff like this. Work out while you blow dry!? Are you kidding me. What else will people think we do? Yoga while we drink sweet tea. These are damaging stereotypes that have no merit or fact to back them up.
      This new Southern Living can do what they want. It’s there money to loose. But as people of the south who truly understand southern culture, we should not only condemn this, we should vocally express this, and make sure we don’t let this garbage tarnish our true identity.

      • Rashell Reese says:

        I love it! “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Is a southern phrase they definitely should have paid more attention to!

  5. Betsy Nelson says:

    I agree with most of the bloggers already in the fact that Southern Living should stick with their roots and try not to branch out so much. However, I can’t blame them for trying to improve their product. It goes with the saying, “You never know until you try!” I’m sure Southern Living got horrible reviews from critics and readers of the magazine that feel the same way that we all do, but you can’t really criticize them for trying to improve. In my opinion, big changes like this are either hit or miss and in this case it was a huge miss. But who knows if they had picked a better article to publish other than this one, it might have worked in their favor. With all those high calorie recipes, a woman might want to do squats while cooking dinner, you never know. I think they should lose the fashion and beauty tips and leave it to experts and go back to what makes Southern Living, Southern Living. That was a nice try on attmepting to change things up but here’s the newsflash, it’s not working!! Everyone wants the old Southern Living back, is that too much to ask.

  6. Callie Mounger says:

    Southern Living has diverged from its well traveled road onto a slippery and quickly crumbling path. The publisher’s intentions are good natured.. “Keep up the the time”, “Stay current”,, “Stay fresh”, “Copy the big money makers”. Yes, all these things are good, but the magazine’s decision makers are missing the whole point of why the magazine is called Southern Living. They are forgetting who the magazine is for and the mission of the magazine. Here is my advice: GIVE THE READERS WHAT THEY WANT.

    You’re target marget should be the Southern home owners, not New York advertisers. The women of the South are your main consumers. They buy the magazine to put on their coffee tables, read the recipes to attempt to be Julia Child, and get interior design ideas by looking at the homes featured in the magazines. They answer is right in from of you, all you have to do is open your eyes.

  7. Savannah says:

    Upon hearing the news that Southern Living has evidently lost its essential “southernness,” I could almost hear the dejected sighs of moms everywhere, including my own. My mom always ensures that our home contains a full pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge and copies of the latest issues of Southern Living, Delta Magazine and Mississippi Magazine spread out on the coffee table. She is most definitely the quintessential Southern Living reader. I immediately called home to get her take on the “new and improved” Southern Living. Her response baffled me as she said, “It’s the cleanest issue of Southern Living I’ve ever had.” I asked her what exactly the cleanest issue pertained to and she said that for years she would totally destroy and dirty page after page because she would rifle through the magazine time and time again for decorating ideas and recipes. I then remembered flipping through my mom’s issue and having to pull the pages apart because olive oil or some other cooking component had found its way onto the corners of the pages containing recipes. She went on to say that “I always knew I found a great recipe by how dirty the page was because it showed how many times I used it.”

    For the sake of my mom and others like her, I hope that Southern Living will return to its “dirty” self.

  8. Lance Ingram says:

    I see your angle and the fact that what was isn’t wasn’t what it used to be but to play devil’s advocate maybe Southern Living is attempting to expand beyond what it has been defined as? What if the editors want to see the magazine become something more than Paula Dean’s coffee table accessories and become something that maybe a southern daughter or northern mother would want to check out. In a magazine market that is dog-eat-dog world and to the outside world dwindling I say kudos to the magazine for an attempt to broaden their readership. It may not work for their favor and it may not be what you as a reader have to come to expect from the magazine but at least they are taking some form of an initiative for attempting to reach a new market.

  9. Mary Alice Gelwix says:

    When I read this post I immediately forwarded it to my mother and she was enraged. “People will protest; this won’t last,” she said. My mom has bins full of Southern Living magazines dating all the way back to the 60s. I grew up watching my grandmother improve their recipes and watching my mother attempt them. Southern Living truly is our mother and grandmother’s magazine. A magazine that has always had a place on our coffee table has found a new home in the guest bathroom. The new health and fitness section breaks up the fluidity of the magazine. If women need tips on how to workout they know they can go to Shape or Women’s Health. I feel it is somewhat contradictory to have a recipe for fried chicken on one page and squat routines on another. Women in the South are perfect and don’t need to work out, duh.

  10. Kirby Sage says:

    I think Soutehrn Living has cracked under the pressure to change, to stay fresh and exciting. But what they have lost is their basic ideal, their entire format. Being inventive doesn’t mean you have to veer from your format. Southern Living was about crafts, and food, and being the best dang Southern hostess you could be. It wasn’t about weight, or hair, or makeup. It was about hospitality, warmth, and etiquette. Southern Living has definitely lost its soul.

  11. Rochlynn DeBarbieris says:

    I have not been an avid Southern Living reader but the cover of the magazine is one that rings a bell for each issue had constant pattern. I agree that Southern Living has lost it’s true meaning as they are trying to reach a larger audience but in doing so they are loosing loyal customers. I understand that they are trying to establish a magazine with a competitive edge in this competitive market but they have lost their sparkle and and the idea to get readers to “tick-click-stick.” Southern Living is starting to look like a Southern Cosmopolitan by adding fitness and beauty ads which has nothing to do about life in the South. Southern Living must put life back in the magazines, make the readers hungry to visit the South and keep them coming back for more.

  12. Elizabeth Evans says:

    It is almost as if Southern Living got bored with its own material which is never good. I think most of us would agree that the attempt to redesign and target some new audience members perhaps was an epic fail. Southern Living is or was known for very specific components of the magazine itself and upon purchase a reader knew exactly what to expect. I think it was a bold move to redesign and try some new things but they obviously didn’t work. Sometime change is good but unfortunately for Southern Living, they sacrificed their reputation for what they thought would be a great change. I give them props for trying though!

  13. Meghan Skeffington says:

    I agree with a lot of what has been said by previous commenters. It baffles me that Southern Living would make these kind of changes, I just don’t understand what could cause them to make such an epic mistake. Southern Living has been printing the same types of articles/recipes FOR YEARS, and it works!!! Why change something that is working perfectly? I think the people at Southern Living were trying to reach out to a different and new target market, but while doing so, they have pretty much lost their loyal followers that they have had since the beginning of the magazine. I hope, for the magazine’s future’s sake, that they get their act together and get back to the normal format ASAP, before it is too late.

  14. Houston Cofield says:

    Ever since I was a child my mother has been subscribed to Southern Living. My mom works as an interior designer and I remember coming home from school everyday and she would be sitting in the dining room with different wallpapers and curtains and flipping through Southern Living searching for new ideas. This is the Southern Living I remember as a kid. The Southern Living the helped define interior design throughout the South. I asked my mom the other day why she is not subscribed to the magazine and she told me it just hasn’t been of much use to her. She even mentioned the decline in recipes because she remembered using so many of them years ago. Southern Living has slowly disappeared from our kitchen table over the past few years, and that is because the publication has suddenly begun to slip away from what has been known to be. Maybe a magazine does need to explore different realms in order to keep their readers interested in the content, but it is certainly not in 10 Minutes To Tones Thighs. This is simply driving readers away.

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