Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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Outlook (www.outlookindia.com)

When I went to India a few months ago, I wanted to pick up a magazine I couldn’t read — at all. No English. There were a few to choose from, and the one I ended up with was Outlook.

Obviously, this is not something I can critique on content. And design-wise, it reminds me of the old design of BusinessWeek — the stories are long but broken up with sidebars and charts; the content is serious and newsy; and the photos are mostly stock news photography and headshots. One thing that strikes me as very different from any American news magazine is that it contains what appears to be poetry, spanning four pages, and also what appears to be fiction or humor across several other pages.

Interestingly, American politics takes up some space. One long article includes a photo of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the back few pages, which appears to be a “year in review” photo essay, include photos of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during last fall’s visit there, dancing with Indian children and spending time with the Indian people.

What foreign magazines have you seen? Could you make sense of what you were looking at even without knowing the language?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Every Day With Rachael Ray (www.rachaelraymag.com)

Issue reviewed: March 2011

Audience

  • median age: 42.6
  • median HHI: $71,166
  • 91% women
  • spends an average of 53 minutes reading each issue

Editorial

If you’re not hungry when you pick up Every Day With Rachael Ray, you will be by the time you finish. Fluffy eggs, drizzled gravies, plump shrimp and juicy tomatoes are pictured on nearly every page — trust me, you’ll want to eat something afterward. The editor, Liz Vaccariello, said the Rachael Ray brand is about “taste, ease and value” and that her personal tenets are being “fun, easy and real.” The reader can sense these principles: Throughout the magazine are fun photos, bite-size articles, whimsical fonts and colors, and budget-friendly price tags. This is not a stuffy cookbook for culinary students; rather, it is a pocket guide for a busy mom who fancies serving her family real meals.

Design

The design is excellent. The photos are great — but really, what kind of cooking magazine would have crappy photography? Other design elements stand on their own, such as font choices, type colors, icons and sidebar treatments. One consistent design element, though, that is unattractive is the colored bar striped across the top of many of the pages. It’s a section header, made to let the reader know what the conversation on the page is about, but the color on the Talk section (a bright green) is really kind of gross, and the bar takes up too much space (that is, it goes all the way across and detracts too much from the page).

What’s Best

  • Features: In this issue, Every Day went searching for the country’s best hot dog in Go Away: Your Ticket to a Great Escape. The whole feature was so clever: Three hot dog tasters from the blog Serious Eats traveled across America and stopped in hot dog joints of all shapes and sizes. In a basketball bracket style of competition, the doggers pitted 64 hot dog joints against each other, narrowed them down to The Sweet Sixteen, profiled The Final Four with mouth-watering photography, and then named the winner with a story about Gene & Jude’s (the best dog maker) and with a follow-up story about Chicago hot dogs in general. In all, Every Day dedicated a generous nine pages to this feature. That is the type of in-depth coverage readers appreciate about magazines, and I love that Every Day gives that to its fans.
  • Fun ideas: Every Day dedicated four pages to a how-to on Family Movie Night, including creating invitations or “press releases” for the kids, recipes for the family and movie-appropriate menus (such as pizzas for Ratatouille).
  • Photos: Did I mention the photos? All I know is, I’m super-hungry right now.

What’s Worst

  • Font craziness: On a couple of occasions (most notably in the feature “Batter Up”), the headline type is so, er …. creative, that it’s difficult to read. Vertical type is generally a no-no, but especially so when you let the letters float in a non-line and stick another word inside one of the letters. I’m all for having fun with headlines, but they should always be easy to read. Sometimes, though, the designers get it right, as they did with “You’re Gonna Need a Steak Knife,” which was carved into wood with — you guessed it — a steak knife.

Overall Opinion

Every Day With Rachael Ray is very much like the character of Rachael herself — a little all over the place, a fan of easy and fun, and always looking for a party. The magazine does a great job of capturing her tone, as well, with words like “faves” and “delish” and “cool.” It feels like Rachael put together every page, and for fans of her work, that’s amazing. That, along with some of the creative concepts and recipes, earn Every Day an A.

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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Filmfare (www.filmfare.com)

Issue reviewed: Jan. 5, 2011

  • Published in Mumbai, India, by Worldwide Media Ltd.
  • Circulation: 142,000; Readership: 1.9 million
  • 148 pages, perfect bound

Audience

  • mostly students
  • 42% have an annual HHI of more than $120,000 Rupees (equivalent to about $2,700)
  • 50% ages 20 to 34
  • 63% male

Editorial

Heard of Bollywood? It’s as dear to the Indian pop culture as Hollywood is to us (or, as Hollywood thinks it is to us anyway!). The editorial content in Filmfare is much like a gossip mag in America: very casual in tone, no deep reads, short snippets. It’s light on evidence, heavy on gossip. Filmfare also spends many, many pages on fashion and movie reviews. And — given my limited knowledge of Indian culture — I was surprised at how racy the whole magazine is. There’s a whole lot of naked male torsos and revealing dresses. Whoa!

Design

The design is pretty good. Filmfare, of course, relies heavily on the photography captured by its paparazzi, as well as from professional photo shoots of the stars. The point is that the pages are made up of photos of beautiful people, and it’s generally hard to make a page ugly when you have stunningly good-looking people on the page. In a few spots, the design choices were questionable to me — usually in the places that overused green backgrounds. But on the whole, it’s a very attractive magazine, with good use of icons, colors, typography and photography. The features, in particular, were well-designed.

What’s Best

  • Supershort copy: Filmfare is one of those magazines you can read twice; you can flip through it once and read just the short chunks of copy, then you can come back later and spend almost as much time only reading the longer pieces. The reader can get a ton of information about hundreds of celebrities in a short period of time — perfect for students’ short attention spans!
  • Five things you must know about: This department has five short pieces of info about a certain star. In this issue, it was Kulraj Randhawa and Utsav Gandhi. What it is lacking is quotes from said stars. It should be more substantial than it is, but it is still irresistible to read all five items.
  • Dramatics: As with American celebrities, the Bollywood counterparts are surrounded by drama. Who’s leaving who, who’s hooking up, who just got an amazing new role. Filmfare capitalizes on this, of course, but especially so in the headlines. For instance, this is the headline for an article about Hrithik Roshan: “I want my story to be the greatest ever.” (Narcissistic much?) The quote-as-title theme continues for other features, including “The term star kid gives me allergies” and “I am a social outcast.” I don’t know any of these stars, but I sure felt like I had to read these articles to find out about the kid-actor allergy and what makes Ronit Roy an outcast.

What’s Worst

  • Body type: The body copy was legible throughout, but the designers have some serious spacing issues. Sometimes they go rag right, sometimes justified — even in the same article! The breaks are all over the place, spacing is often off, and the magazine flip-flops between two returns separating paragraphs and a return and an indent. Nitpickers like me cannot take this type of inconsistency, especially when it’s such an easy fix.
  • Journalistic merit: It’s pretty common with celeb mags for gossip to rule and facts to be secondary, but I hate it regardless. A real story has a source or a quote or attribution of some sort. I’m not a fan of speculation journalism.

Overall Opinion

Filmfare was a great study in Bollywood culture. One of my favorite things on my trip to India was the fashion, and Filmfare lives and breathes current fashion. Another thing I loved was listening to my brother-in-law’s cousins talking about Bollywood stars — and I didn’t have a clue! So to read about some of the stars was exciting. There is NO crossover (that I can tell) of Hollywood and Bollywood, so Indians don’t know Jennifer Aniston any more than we know Shruti Haasan. Personally, going through a magazine packed with wildly famous people that I’ve never seen before is a really great (and different) experience. For the good photography and short copy, but a few flaws here and there, I give Filmfare a B.

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

I don’t like to see people get fired. Especially when I feel attached to them. When Michael Bloomberg took over BusinessWeek, I swore it off. I had gotten BusinessWeek free for three years as part of my Executive MBA program. I loved it. I would spend a couple of hours every week reading it, fantasizing about how smart I would be someday and creating a mental image of how refined I already was for reading BusinessWeek in my spare time.

So when multiple employees (many of them editorial) were let go last year, I was unhappy. I had read their stories, looked at their charts, absorbed their sidebars. I felt like this know-it-all millionaire had come into my playground and messed up the sandbox. I just was not going to play anymore.

But time has passed, and this new article has piqued my interest in the magazine once again. Richard Turley, a 30-something from Britain (a little reminiscent of Jonathan Ive, maybe?), pushed for a dramatic redesign and got it. The magazine’s creative director is daring with charts and photo shoots and concepts. I love this quote of his:

“One of the things I wanted to do was to have a magazine which you could graze. The idea that you could have two different kinds of reading experiences. One where you just flick through it. There’s a lot of ways of getting into articles, there’s a lot of things going on the page that hopefully catch your eye. So you can have a rich reading experience without actually reading the magazine. But, if you want to read the magazine, there’s a lot there to read.”

So what changed with the redesign? Everything. The covers are really intriguing — I’ve been watching them the last few months. I’ve just downloaded the new Bloomberg Businessweek iPad app that I plan to spend time with this afternoon, and next time I’m in the bookstore, I’ll pick up a physical copy. Some complaints I’ve read about it say that the magazine traded content for looks, or that the journalism has suffered so that the book will be more beautiful. I hope that’s not the case. Because now, after this year-and-a-half-or-so of being without the magazine, I want to open it again and enjoy it.

Have you seen the new Bloomberg Businessweek? What do you think of it? Click through here to see some of the more interesting pages from the past year.

Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Update 4/25/11: Richard Turley got even more praise today by WWD Media. The entire article is here. This is an excerpt: “Turley, a quick study of the company line, explained how the open seating plan in the Bloomberg offices encourages the magazine’s art directors and editors, who sit amongst each other in the office, to collaborate. ‘Bloomberg is a very ego-flat place to work,’ he said.”

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New York (www.nymag.com)

Issue reviewed: September 27, 2010, Vol. 43, No. 30

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by New York Media LLC
  • Circulation: 427,000; 7.4 million unique views per month online
  • 110 pages, saddlestitch

Audience

  • median age: 44
  • median HHI: $94,604
  • 36% professional/managerial, 16% top management at their companies
  • 52% women

Editorial

The writing is so good throughout New York. I kept skimming articles so I could get through the magazine a little faster, but they kept drawing me in and I’d end up reading the whole piece. So I didn’t get through it very quickly! New York’s writing is informative, sympathetic, diverse and eclectic. Until you get to the last few pages, which are about what to do and where to do it, New York appeals to readers anywhere in the country who care about politics and entertainment.

Design

The design is good in parts but lacking in others. On The Approval Matrix, the last page of the Sept. 27 issue, it’s a cute idea — separating people, books, songs, shows, etc., into quadrants of interest (highbrow/lowbrow and brilliant/despicable). The content is very good, but the page lacks a focal point or that one great thing that makes you read the page. Good photos, just not draw-you-in use of the photos.

What’s Best

  • Comments: On page 6, New York includes a summary of reader commentary about articles in a previous issue. The comments are written prose style, so you’re actually reading a story about what people thought of the topics. Very smart, very engaging. And who wouldn’t, after reading this section, want to submit their comments to the New York e-mail address?
  • The Neighborhood News: This graphic representation of a few city news briefs is so readable. The blocks of copy are so short and random (“Lady Gaga ordered a pizza to go at the Grimaldi’s takeout counter.”) that you can’t help but read them.
  • Illustrations: New York uses tons of illustrations — including tons of cartoons/comic strips to illustrate celebrity-isms, like in Gossipmonger, and to highlight political issues, like at the beginning of Intelligencer. Original and fun to read.

What’s Worst

  • Comments: Is it ironic that I have the same section in under “worst” as I do “best”? The reason is, I love the content. I really dislike the design. It’s so plain, so textbook, so uninviting. New York, please don’t let readers skip over this great section because they’re not invited to read it!
  • Gray matter: I’m a big fan of words and of using a lot of them. But some of the pages are so full of gray copy that the reader hesitates to jump in. On the pages where the designers got to design, the graphics generally looked great. But on mostly-words pages, it’s apparent the designers lost the battle against space, time and the almighty editorial department.

Overall Opinion

New York is an interesting read, even for a non-New Yorker like me. I would definitely pick up another copy. In some spots, the design looks a little dated, although I assume that’s because New York’s staff is trying to maintain some sense of old-school, the-standard, newsy-type look. I don’t fault them that, but I would enjoy more color and more white space. But for its value as a resource (along with its complementary website) and as a guide to the politics and entertainment its readers enjoy, I give New York an A.

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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Fortune (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/)

Issue reviewed: September 27, 2010, Vol. 162, No. 5

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by Time Inc.
  • Circulation: 830,000
  • 142 pages, perfect-bound

Audience

  • median age: 46
  • median HHI: $108,440
  • 57% male
  • top managers and executives

Editorial

Fortune is blessed with good writers and good story concepts. The writing is satisfying and the sidebars are relevant. Fortune dares to take on some of the big companies, even including an article on why you shouldn’t buy Apple stock.

Design

The design of Fortune is a little clunky occasionally. In general, the color palette is simple, masculine and bold. The illustrations are good, and the sidebar/chart treatment is pleasing. The photography throughout is very strong. But the clunkiness of the headlines is distracting. That font wasn’t cool decades ago and it isn’t cool now.

What’s Best

  • Chunky nuggets: Fortune capitalizes on readers’ short amount of time to read by breaking the copy into bite-size morsels that still actually tell you something or mean something. The charts are attractively simple, the stats are interesting, and the information is concise.
  • Content: The storytelling in Fortune is very human. Even though the audience is businesspeople, the stories are relatable to a broader group of readers. The editorial ranges from interviewing skills to stock prices to leadership to answering questions like “Should I accept my employee’s friend request?”
  • Corrections: I love a good correction. We all jack stuff up sometimes, and it’s how we handle it when we do that matters. I enjoyed Allan Sloan’s correction: “In my last column I wrote that President Obama wants to increase taxes on dividends for the ‘rich’ to 39.6% from the current 15%. That’s wrong … Sorry for the mistake. But I stand by my original point that tax rates don’t drive the market.”

What’s Worst

  • Headline font: Many of the headlines are typed in a thick, black Italic font that reminds me of magazines from the ’70s. It’s heavy and hard to read.

Overall Opinion

This magazine is a good read and could hold my attention for a solid hour. Its online component adds even more value, with video and searchable content. But the business magazine market is saturated, and other contenders, like Forbes, BusinessWeek and Inc., are more visually breathtaking and have a better online presence. I give Fortune a B for its good content but lack of a wow factor.

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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Family Circle (www.familycircle.com)

Issue reviewed: Oct. 1, 2010

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by Meredith Corp.
  • Circulation: 3.8 million
  • 132 pages, perfect bound

Audience

  • median HHI: $52,516
  • median age: 50.5
  • 100% female
  • moms, especially of teens and tweens
  • 58.9% married

Editorial

Family Circle hits on multiple levels of interest for moms: health, beauty, parenting, cooking, celebrities and style. The coverage brushes past each issue, touching on it only enough to keep its moms current and then leaving the heavy niche coverage to other magazines. This method makes it a good one-stop magazine for moms who don’t want 12 magazines a month. And it helps moms know who their kids are listening to or watching with interviews with and bite-size stories on teen heart throbs like Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber.

Design

The design ranges from so-so to stellar throughout. On some pages, like 58-61, Let It Shine, I felt thrown right back into the ’80s with the dark colors, dated pose and hairdo, and justified type. But pages 90-91, The Anti-Cancer Diet, is eye-catching, informative and colorful — right where it should be. Also, Family Circle makes good use of black backgrounds, using them in small, powerful doses and set against strong contrasts of pinks, oranges and yellows.

What’s Best

  • Easy how-tos: Where some supermom magazines make readers feel inadequate just by looking at the crafts (“I’ll never be able to do that!”), Family Circle shows easy craft ideas (cakesicles, spray painted wreaths, cut-out letters, etc.) that most moms could do quickly and easily.
  • Food photography: I could eat the cantonese shrimp off the page of the Wok & Roll feature. The background is pleasing, the lighting is good, and all the veggies look so fresh. This photo isn’t out of the norm for the magazine, either; with only one exception (the macaroni and cheese dishes on 115 aren’t very appetizing, and the dark background doesn’t help the photo), the food throughout the magazine looks tasty, fresh and easy to make.
  • Momster: Family Circle has created its own social networking site, Momster, where moms can share stories, advice and support. The magazine promotes it but doesn’t go overboard. It does publish results from polls conducted on the site in the magazine.

What’s Worst

  • The vertical ads: In the back of the magazine, several 1/2-, 1/3- and 2/3-page vertical ads interrupt what would otherwise be great cooking/recipe features. It comes off as disruptive and annoying rather than appealing to the reader to buy the products in the ads.
  • Design missteps: As I mentioned, some of the pages just don’t hit the high bar set by other parts of the magazine. Maybe some sections got to go to a redesign meeting that other departments didn’t get to go to?  The style and food sections look strong, updated and smart, but the Inner Circle, Family section and that feature, Let It Shine, are outdated and out of place.

Overall Opinion

Family Circle’s design team could come together more and create a more cohesive, beautiful product for its readers.  The talent is obviously there because so many great pages are already being printed. However, Family Circle has great editorial content and hits on a lot of issues that are important to moms. Its Momster site is a great benefit for its readers. For these reasons, I give Family Circle a B.

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