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Neiman Marcus Is About to Go by The Book

Publications: With the upscale retailer's new 'magalog'--a huge catalog that sells stuff but looks like a magazine--the blur between advertising and editorial has just gotten fuzzier.

September 12, 1996|JANET KINOSIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a startled look on the blue dog's face on the cover of Neiman Marcus' virgin venture into newsstand publishing. Is the little fellow, by Louisiana artist George Rodrigue, thinking: "Oh, boy, what will they think of next?"

Neiman Marcus is hoping consumers, retailers, image-conscious designers and Madison Avenue will all learn a new phrase: The Book. That's what the 30-store, high-end specialty Dallas retailer is calling its sumptuous "magalog" (magazine / catalog), set to hit selected newsstands and bookstores the week of Sept. 23, selling for $10 a pop. The circulation of the eight-times-a-year book will vary between 500,000 and 1 million.

Neiman Marcus will become the first upscale U.S. retailer to publicly sell its catalog, and is now the latest in a line of companies--such as Ticketmaster, which last year launched Live!--to fuzz up the once-clear line between advertising and editorial. Launched in February and originally mailed to NM charge customers, the publication is stirring up some noise in the business world.

"We decided to put The Book out on the stands, in part, because the reaction has been so quick, so strong and so exceptional," says Steven Kornajcik, senior vice president of creative services for NM. "People have been calling up to see how they can get copies; people are telling us they keep them on their coffee tables and book shelves."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 13, 1996 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 2 View Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
The Book--The Times incorrectly stated in a story in Thursday's Life & Style that Live! published by Ticketmaster, fuzzes the line between advertising and editorial. In fact, ads are clearly delineated.

The classy fashion magazines are what Neiman is aiming to ape. The new issue is thick, at 184 pages, and oversized, at 10 by 12 inches. The vibrant color and quality paper stock make the publication a seductive read. Editorial type resembles that of Vogue's style. Interviews and profiles of designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan, Tom Ford of Gucci and Emanuel Ungaro appear at the front of the book. As one jewelry designer, who requested anonymity, suggested, comparing it to other catalogs: "It's caviar in a world of chicken feed."

While mum on the cost of the high-gloss publication, "it's an expensive venture, for sure," says Ann Richardson, the store's vice president of advertising who helped conceive the publication. The cost per page is split 50-50 between NM and the clothes makers. The title, The Book, is a bow to magazine editors who like to call their monthly issues that.

Because fashion is seasonal, Richardson says the publication will skip the months of January, June, July and certainly December, when Neiman-Marcus' famed Christmas catalog is put out by NM Direct, a separate division that has less of a designer emphasis. According to Kornajcik, charge customers will continue to receive The Book free, via mail; thus "a consumer can receive a free 'subscription' by becoming a charge customer."

Another advantage: Look for reduced "mailbox clutter," Richardson says, since The Book will replace the 40 or so catalogs Neiman Marcus puts out each season. (NM Direct's separate publication schedule will not be affected.) "This will now be our tool for communicating with our customers."

The danger, of course, with this type of "communicating" is the potential for media blur. But some claim that in the fervid world of American advertising and especially fashion advertising, "adverts" have become more interesting and imaginative than the editorial surrounding them.

"I'd venture, if we put [The Book] next to Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar, my intuition tells me that we'd look more focused, more directed on fashion," says Kornajcik, not shyly. "Essentially, our buyers, who know an awful lot about fashion and merchandising, are the fashion editors for the consumer." Voila! NM is eliminating the middleman.

Responds Paul Wilmot, a corporate spokesman for Conde Nast, which publishes Vogue: "Anything today that stimulates fashion, we're for. Our deal is if you don't go into the magazine business, we won't go into the store business."

*

Other companies have tried their hand at newsstand publishing. The splashy Colors magazine, published quarterly by United Colors of Benetton, started out as a catalog but separated on its fourth issue to a more traditional magazine, replete with outside contributors on subjects such as race, food and the Third World. "As an image piece, and for PR value, it's tremendous," says John Poerink, advertising director for North America for United Colors of Benetton. "But we don't push product. That's a big difference.

"But, honestly, in the world of fashion, there's somewhat of a myth, anyway, regarding the fact that editorial content is separate from advertising. We all know that, but probably don't say it. Now if one said that about a news publication, that would be a very dangerous comment to make."

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