Is so: Okay. I’ve landed and finally have been able to read the I Want Media interview with Simon Dumenco of Benetton’s Colors Magazine. So, now I see why Patrick e-mailed me. Because in it, Simon says the following:
We’re not a custom-published magazine. There’s no commerce element to Colors — the only presence Benetton has in the magazine is in the form of a handful of paid advertisements. We’re a culture magazine that happens to be substantially supported by one corporate benefactor, but the magazine also receives major support from non-Benetton advertisers as well as newsstand and subscription revenues.
Saying that Colors is custom-published is like saying that the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report are custom-published because owner Mort Zuckerman happens to be a real-estate mogul, not just a media mogul. Benetton makes clothes, but it also happens to publish a culture magazine.
Is Simon trying to protect his ego, or something? Is custom publishing beneath him?
So, why stop there? Why not claim that Benetton’s advertising is not really advertising? It’s just art that appears to be advertising.
And surely, that was a joke when Simon made the Mort Zuckerman comparison. Really, if that comparison were to hold up, whenever U.S. News & World Report and the New York Daily News published a new issue, Mort Zuckerman’s real estate company would post press releases on its website going into great detail about the editorial content, just like the United Colors of Benetton’s website does for every issue of Colors. Mort Zuckerman, who does not even mention being editor and publisher of U.S. News & World Reports on his bio on the Boston Properties Inc. website is not the correct comparison. Artists who get their art featured in an Absolut ad is the correct comparison.
I can say with the confidence that comes from spending a career in custom publishing, Colors is a custom published magazine. Or, if it makes Simon feel better, I will use the international term for the genre, and say that Colors is a customer magazine. It supports the carefully crafted and extremely successful branding strategy of Benetton. That is the sole reason it was created. Just because that branding strategy has as its foundation an approach that encourages an aesthetic, freedom and experimental tradition that allows Simon to comfortably cash Benetton’s checks does not make it less of a branding strategy that his editorial talent and efforts are supporting. Whether it is sold on the newsstand or carries third party advertising or makes a profit or loses its ass, it waddles and quacks just like dozens (hundreds) of other customer magazines.
As for the “substantially supported by one corporate benefactor” doublespeak, I’m guessing (and I have to here, because it really makes little sense) Simon is suggesting Colors has a business (philanthropic?) model like that of public broadcasting, or something? Give me a break. No, it was created and is paid for by the company that OWNS it, Benetton. Not some non-profit foundation. That some (very little, I estimate) of the expenses are offset by third-party advertising and newsstand sales is not at all unusual in the world of custom publishing.
Perhaps I have no problem pointing out Colors’ true colors because, unlike Simon, I do not see the term “custom published” as a derisive one. Like all magazines, its readers (not its business purpose) will ultimately judge the quality of the magazine. As it should be.
All that argument aside, however, I really don’t care if Simon feels that attaching the “c-p” words to the magazine harms it. I’ll go along and agree with him, because more than caring about what the term “custom publishing” means, I care about the world having another great magazine with the resources and freedom to create what Kurt and Simon and their colleagues have the potential of creating. If the fantasy of calling it “a culture magazine that happens to be substantially supported by one corporate benefactor,” is what it takes to get Kurt and Simon to unleash their considerable talent and vision on this opportunity, so be it. In the end, I’d rather see their work than worry about what they call it.