Myrna Blyth of AARP talks about the magazine she founded, More, its demise, and the neglected demographic of women over 40
Currently the editorial director of AARP Media. Blyth was formerly the editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal and while there founded More in 1998 – now both titles have been shuttered by Meredith in the past couple of years
It can be painful when a publication we have worked at closes down. This has happened to me when Hearst and Copley closed down Los Angeles area newspapers I once worked for. Sometimes the news of the closing does not come as a surprise, as when my successor at McGraw-Hill closed down the glossy magazine I had launched shortly after I left the company, replacing it with a tabloid news print product (I think she hated that we had such a beautiful magazine).
So, I understand how Myrna Blyth, currently the editorial director of AARP Media. feels about the news that Meredith has decided to shutter More magazine.
Blyth launched More magazine in 1998 when still the editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. On the 15th anniversary of the magazine’s first issue Blyth told the magazine’s editor, Lesley Jane Seymour, about the motivation behind its launch.
When More launched in 1998, it was a great time for magazines. Ladies’ Home Journal, which I also edited, was doing well. Plus, a demographer pointed out to me that women had extended their average life span by 25 or 30 years—and the net result, she believed, was that rather than just adding a few decades to their old age, women were becoming healthier, wealthier and more vital in middle age. For the first time, women were being valued—and valuing themselves—not for their innocence, which is what they’d been valued for in past millenniums, but for their experience. More encouraged women to examine, explore, empower and enjoy those years. Women liked the magazine immediately and recognized its uniqueness—as they still do.
Unfortunately, Meredith announced last week that More would be shuttered, blaming its demise on advertising issues.
“Despite a significant investment in More in 2015 – including an increased trim size and higher quality paper stock that aligned with its upscale and affluent audience – More continued to face advertising challenges in the luxury marketplace,” a Meredith spokesman said.
While it was true that Meredith did upgrade some elements of the magazine’s appearance, it also slashed its rate base, and repositioned the magazine, best reflected in the March cover featuring actress Diane Lane.
Readers seem to have noticed the changes and commented on them on the magazine’s Facebook page. “The models seem to be getting younger and younger,” one reader wrote when the latest cover was unveiled. “Dear More magazine … how about just once you NOT photoshop the woman who is on the cover … Diane is beautiful without all the Photoshopping,” wrote another.
Now both of the two magazines at Meredith that served the 40 and older women’s demographic are gone. Ladies’ Home Journal, which was launched in 1883, was known as one of the Seven Sisters, a group of women’s service magazines that also included Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle (Blyth was once executive editor of the magazine), Redbook, Woman’s Day, and McCall’s (which changed its name to Rosie in 2000, then was shuttered in 2002 when Rosie O’Donnell backed out saying “I could not participate in a magazine that bears my name when I could not be assured it would reflect my vision, values and editorial direction).
“I’m sad about the closing of both More and the Ladies’ Home Journal,” Blyth told TNM. “The Ladies’ Home Journal had this amazing history and it’s very sad that it could not continue. But what it needed was money, investment and Meredith didn’t want to do that.”
“I feel sad about More, too. I think the people who there worked very hard to try to keep it afloat and kept trying to change it in a search for advertisers.”
Blyth, who will be 77 in April, noticed the changes, but is quick to say that she feels the magazine’s editor, Lesley Jane Seymour, did a great job.
Still… “It wasn’t the magazine that I started. It was a beauty and fashion magazine, and it went away from its over 40 demographic, and that seemed to me kind of sad,” Blyth said.
“To me what was the strength of the magazine was that it was for a demographic that certainly is out there but is underserved by media, and underserved by advertisers who are selling products to that demographic.”
Blyth said she knows that both magazine publishers, and advertisers and their agencies, are trying to reach younger women, so called millennials. But they are wrong to turn their backs on women over 40.
“It’s nonsense, it’s dumb, and yet advertisers continue to do this,” Blyth said.
“Publishers run from this audience, and advertisers run from a demographic that spends $7.1 trillion a year. We call it at AARP the longevity economy. If it was a separate economy it would be the third largest economy in the world: America, China, and those over 50.”
The problem, said Blyth, is that while they are pursuing this younger audience that is more inclined towards consuming media digitally, they are losing sight of the audience that still loves magazines.
“They are trading an audience they had for one they want to reach digitally, but haven’t figured out how to do yet,” Blyth said.
“But More had a unique ability to give unique information because there was no one else talking to a woman over 40. And a “new” woman… a woman who had always worked, a woman who might be divorced, a woman who wanted to look and feel great even though she was 45 or 50 or 55, a woman who knew she had 30 or 40 more years of life and wanted to make the most of it.”
Of course, Blyth’s current situation, working for AARP, is far different than working for a commercial magazine publisher.
“Remember, I work for an organization where media is just part of it,” Blyth said. “AARP is a membership organization. It’s a nonpartisan, nonprofit that has a social mission to serve an audience over 50, so it’s terrific, and part of their social mission is offering information to this demographic, and so so I’m very fortunate to be able to do it.”
Still, AARP is growing its digital footprint, too.
“We have a website that is growing, we have a studio that produces video, and we have had success in our videos on both the web and social media. But that doesn’t mean they still don’t love the magazine.”
Blyth said she likes tablet magazines, and uses the Texture digital newsstand app – “because you can have so many” – but still has her doubts about digital magazines.
“Everyone thought magazines on the iPad was going to be the solution. And magazines on tablets are wonderful,” Bluyth said. “It’s just that people aren’t really looking at them very much. Because you don’t want a magazine on tablet. You kind of want it on paper.”
“Our magazine and our Bulletin are on the tablet, we have an app for that, and they’re terrific. But if I’m holding my tablet maybe I’ll watch a show or a movie instead. It’s like all the things we add to magazines on a tablet don’t exactly help them as much,” said Blyth.
“It makes the experience more that the reader really wants from a magazine.”