Sunset: It Will Make You Fall In Love With The West

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Grade: A, Magazine: Lifestyle, Magazine: Regional, Reviews
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Sunset (www.sunset.com)

Issue reviewed: October 2010

  • Published in Menlo Park, Calif., by Sunset Publishing Corp.
  • Circulation: 1,138,913

Audience

  • average HHI: $91,829
  • Western U.S. residents
  • outdoorsy, healthy and wealthy

Overall Editorial

I had never looked inside Sunset before, so everything about its innards was new to me. It has a really interesting history, worth checking out here. Sunset started in 1898 and has been through many iterations, including after being dealt a huge blow during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Editorially, it focuses on food, gardening, travel and Western style. It has tons of short copy throughout, packing lots of information into small numbers of words.

Overall Design

The design of Sunset is really enticing. Excellent photos and appealing sidebars are staples throughout this publication, and the fonts and colors are pleasing. It is obvious this magazine’s staff does a lot of planning. The Spices feature is designed around the photography, so the editorial and art folks must have collaborated nicely to put this story together. That’s not always easy, so I appreciate it when I can see that it was achieved.

Cover Design and Blurbs

This issue says fall without “saying” fall. An orange nameplate with a purple background and a hot meal, plated and waiting for you to devour. Chicken and carrots and peppers … it really is beautiful food photography. Blurbs are minimal but sufficient: One dares the reader to open the magazine (Are you drinking a fake pinot?), another gives the reader immediacy (Instant color! For pots, borders, and beds), and still another sends the reader traveling before even getting to the pages (22 quick fall getaways from Sonoma to Sedona).

Editor’s Note

Editor-in-Chief Katie Tamony achieved several things in her editorial, He’ll Be Missed. Mourning the death of former Sunset owner, Bill Lane, Tamony described her friendship with him, gave a brief history of the magazine and added in details about him sure to make some Westerners swoon: horse riding. Tamony also accomplished the “look what’s inside” trick that many editors aim for in their editor’s note, but this one is smart: Below the editor’s note is Katie’s Picks for October, with three pointers to articles inside and online, each with a photo. It truly is a brilliant way to pull readers in without sacrificing valuable editor space and without making the editor’s note sound like a commercial for the magazine.

Departments and Columns

The opening department is called The West At Its Best, and it is four pages of bite-size information about gardening, food, wine and human interest. The rest of this magazine is categorized into features, then Travel, Home & Garden and Food & Wine, each with multiple departments inside these categories. Information throughout is presented in short, readable chunks with enticing design. One example is in Travel: Instead of just listing 10 ways to tour wine country, the editors turned it into a quiz filled with photos and guide information. Another example, called Color In Your Garden, follows with two pages of pot gardening, two of border gardens (with expert commentary) and one colorful page of veggies. The final department of the magazine, View Masters, is a large photo submitted by a reader. Each reader whose photo is chosen for publication wins $100! Nice incentive, and a great way to engage readers.

Features

The feature well is short, and if you’re looking for long, deep articles, you’re looking in the wrong place. Instead, what you’ll find in Sunset is beautiful features that encourage readers to try new things. In the October issue is a feature called Spice. The word count for this eight-page feature is probably around 1,200 words — in other words, photos dominate. But even with so few words, it’s informative and interesting, and I’m sure many readers will study these spices and their accompanying recipes during the upcoming cool months. Three more features follow, done in much the same way: big photos, short information and a call to try something new. I love that the editors took the story Once Upon A Home about a family’s home decor and dedicated an entire spread at the end to teaching the reader how to do a portion of what the featured family did. Sunset makes style, good cooking and smart gardening achievable.

Use of Photography

I want to just put OMG! here. The photography is truly wonderful. There are so many photos in this magazine that you can just get lost in it. The colors throughout are relevant and timely (it’s definitely a fall issue!). No page is untouched by a glamorous shot — even the photos of apples are beyond reproach. In Sunset, the photography is so diverse — from food to destinations to gardens to people to homes … it’s stunning throughout.

Use of Illustrations

The only illustrations are maps and icons. They serve their purpose. The editors know their strength is in photography, which is where they choose instead to focus their energy.

Relevance to Intended Audience

I bet Sunset is to the West what Southern Living is to the South. Iconic, historic, relevant. A must-have. It definitely serves its reader base with things to do/eat/grow in the West, and it focuses on Western ideals of healthy living and outdoor exploring. I found a comment recently on MagaScene where the writer, Emily McMackin, said she would want to have Sunset magazine with her if she was trapped on a deserted island because of “its emphasis on the mind, body and soul. It will teach me everything I need to know to survive on my island–from tips on organic eating and using vegetation to build a shelter to how to truly appreciate and commune with nature.” I see where she’s coming from, and I think those organic leanings resonate with Sunset’s Western audience.

Integration with Website

Splendid. Sunset takes multiple opportunities to direct readers online. Several departments and features tell the reader to go online for more recipes, gardening ideas and travel advice. And the website itself is very much like the magazine: Lots of info, well-designed and diverse in content. Sunset is also active in social media, with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, and readers can also set up their own recipe files, saving the recipes they like the best in their own online portfolio.

Flow, Story Hierarchy

Sunset begins with small bites, leads up to features in the middle, then teases the reader with more little chunks through to the end. Sunset doesn’t really define its departments, just its categories. So the flow is all travel, then all gardening, then features (which are a mix of the other categories), then food and wine. Another way the good folks at Sunset could consider working it is keeping all its travel, including features, together; same with gardening and food/wine. Certainly, they have their own reasons for setting it up the way they do, but it seems more common sense to keep all the stories on each topic together.

Paper Quality

Sunset uses thin, glossy pages that show off the photos well. It is perfect-bound, and this particular issue is 120 pages plus covers. I don’t know if it’s always been perfect-bound; at this size, it might be good to go saddle-stitch.

Overall Opinion

Like I said in the beginning, I wasn’t familiar with Sunset before I got this issue. It swept me off my feet and made me wish I was a Westerner! For that, I give it an A. I don’t mean to gush, but for me, it was a very nice surprise. The colors and photos were appetizing, and the editorial content was intriguing. And it makes me realize how much of the U.S. (the West, specifically) I haven’t seen and therefore haven’t fully appreciated. To anyone who hasn’t read Sunset, I encourage you to pick it up next time you’re at the magazine stand and flip through it. I think you’ll agree that it’s worth a look.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Comments
  1. flyinggma says:

    Thanks for the review. It was great. So many memories from my grandmothers’ homes came rushing back. They both had Sunset everything in their homes. I remember paging through the magazines that they had back then and loving all the photos and dreaming of someday going to some of those places.

    I love their website. It will be added to my favorites to check back frequently. It reminds me a little of the Midwest Living magazine that I enjoy.

  2. I bet those are great memories, Jeanne! And memories that many people share. Sunset has been around for generations now, and I imagine a lot of people grew up thumbing through its pretty pages and fantasizing about the West.

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