People magazine founder Dick Stolley calls it "the great magazine success story of 1988. If I had to bet on a new magazine's success, I'd put my money on Memories."
Memories, which bills itself "The Magazine of Then and Now," is not the first periodical to attempt to exploit the public's fondness for nostalgia. But it is the first to give nostalgia relevance and bite.
And it is literally a magazine you can't put down. Even people who find the premise hokey get hooked by the unusual combination of history, gossip, journalism and humor. Falling somewhere between American Heritage and People, in the words of editor Carey Winfrey, it "looks at the past journalistically from the perspective of the present."
Memories is the brainchild of Peter Diamandis, who is president and CEO of Diamandis Communications, the magazine publishing company created last year in a leveraged buyout of CBS' magazine division. Among other Diamandis periodicals are Field & Stream and Woman's Day.
Reflecting on the notion of a graying America, the publishing executive believed that there was no magazine "engaging older Americans in their interests, rather that trying to help them with their infirmities."
By itself the idea of a nostalgia magazine was a little like the famous story about the movie producer who told his writers he had an idea for a picture that would make them all rich: "World War II," he said. "What about World War II?," they asked. "Hey," he replied, "you're the writers."
Memories was given shape and substance by Winfrey, formerly on staff at Time magazine and at one time a foreign correspondent for The Times. Coming on board as editor, Winfrey assembled a staff that included Gay Bryant, the former editor of Working Woman and Family Circle.
The editors developed what they call an "anniversary-driven format." Looking at headline news at 10-year intervals, they discovered that most of the major newsstand stories of the last four decades had angles that "still rang bells" with readers. They estimated 40 years to be about the right span for the memory pool of most readers. "There were stories on the Kennedys, the Reagans, Elvis," Bryant said. "About the only one missing from Memories is Marilyn Monroe. Even Elizabeth Taylor is on the cover."
The cover stories convey Memories' rationale: "30 Years Ago: Elvis Joins the Army"; "1963: If J.F.K. Had Lived"; "1948: Why Jane Wyman Left Ronnie Reagan." Additional pieces look at the sexual revolution "From Kinsey to Koop," the revenge of Uncle Miltie; the sack dress; the civil rights movement; "Laugh-In"; the student takeover at Columbia University and the war on polio. Contributors include Gloria Emerson, Ralph Abernathy, William V. Shannon and Letty Cottin Pogrebin.
Memories' development cost of "well under a million dollars" compares favorably, say, to the $7 million-plus that Conde Nast is rumored to have spent on its new Traveller magazine. "Instead, we have taken the Hearst approach," Winfrey said. No marketing studies, no direct-mail campaign. "Put it out there and hope for the best."
Three hundred ten thousand copies appeared on U.S. newsstands Jan. 15 (another 20,000 went to Britain and 10,000 to Canada). More than 50% are expected to sell by April 15 when the first issue is removed from circulation, according to marketing director Margaret Hamilton. The 96-page issue sells for $1.50.
The next edition will appear in October, according to Winfrey, and in January, 1989, it will come out bimonthly. If all goes well it will publish monthly the following year.
"It is too early to claim success," Winfrey said. "All we know is that where it is being displayed it is selling very well. I'm getting about 35 letters a day from readers and to say they are grateful and euphoric is an understatement.
"We haven't got it 100%," he added, "but at least the first issue suggests what the magazine wants to become."
House & Garden
Unsuspecting habitues of the venerable House & Garden may be shaken by the arrival of the March issue. Increased in size, completely redesigned and trendily rechristened HG, Conde Nast's interior design and architecture monthly has been, in the words of editor Anna Wintour, "broadened in scope and featurized."
Traditionally, publications like House & Garden, known as shelter magazines in the trade, are not so much read as flipped through for designing and decorating ideas. HG, while not turning its editorial back on interiors and architecture, has added Vanity Fair-style profiles of personalities in the design world and columns and features on "everything connected to decorating."
HG will take a special interest in California, according to the editor. "Maybe because they have more room, Californians seem to be especially interested in style," she said. "Young people in California take a real creative interest in design questions. They care about how they live. And they worry about how they spend their money."