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27 March 2009

The Death of Quality


There's been much talk about the shuttering of various shelter magazines - the collapse of Domino most notably stunned and saddened many. In an overcrowded market, one could assert that a correction is taking place and that the fittest and most desirable will be still standing once this recession-depression is over. However when it's the cream of the crop that's evaporating instead of the powdered milk, one wonders if the problem doesn't lie elsewhere.

A similar winnowing is going on in the English antiques trade. The rule of thumb has always been that when times are tough, the demand for middling goods disappears while there will always be a demand for the best. (This was borne out by the YSL sale recently.) Over the past few years however, several of the top English furniture dealers have closed their doors - even the leader of the pack, Mallett, has recently staged a coup d'etat, ousting long-term director Lanto Synge for a younger director who will promote their contemporary furniture line Meta.


The latest casualty is Norman Adams, founded in 1923, and the remnants of their collection will be offered by Sotheby's London this April.

Why this is particularly sad is that the institutional knowledge that has been passed down through the generations is disappearing. This struck me again after watching Valentino: The Last Emperor. The loss of Valentino to the couture trade means the slender threads connecting fashion to its past traditions of Dior and beyond are even more tenuous.


So why is it that quality is no guarantee of survival? Perhaps it is that tastes have so radically changed that the outmoded must disappear and when the pendulum swings back, a new crop of dealers, designers, et al will find their way. Perhaps it is that we are becoming less educated and appreciative of craftsmanship and materials, instead prefering the thrill of the easy and often acquisition over something more substantial and costly.

In the case of the media, when even a magazine very much in demand like Domino can't survive, something more seismic seems to be afoot. Clearly the business model of relying on ad revenues isn't sustainable, but would it be enough to charge more for a subscription? Even though blogs are here to stay - constant and instantaneous information flow as well as a sense of community are two major factors, they can't replace the high production values of magazines unless they too started paying photographers and writers.

House and Garden was one of the first shelter magazines, launched in 1901. It was closed for the second time in 2007.

What do you think? Will all magazines become virtual? Would you pay to subscribe to a blog?


Top image of the Execution of Marie Antoinette

10 comments:

soodie :: said...

emily... i am in complete wonder as well... you raise several very good points. survival of the fittest isn't true any more. the american dream is over = those striving, wise and educated will get where exactly.

people are speculating that brown furniture is on the rise. that people will go back to what they know and what they are comfortable with. but doesn't seem so with recent auction sales. what happened in the depression was people were looking for new and innovative ideas. they found that in scandinavian design however at the same time colonial revival styles soared. it was a time of conflictions. but today? what is our society looking for? what is our society celebrating? the young, unknowledgeable and anything for a quick profit? WHY ARE WE VALUEING TRENDS OVER KNOWLEDGE?

excellent question you have posed…

Mrs. Blandings said...

Emily - I am, of course, a bit bound by my age and experience, but I do think that print magazines will survive. I would pay more for a subscription - I am currently paying a shocking amount for WOI. I don't think I would pay to subscribe to very many blogs, though it's an interesting notion. I did have a conversation with someone recently about the idea of the blog having both free content, then further information for a fee. We are certainly in flux - it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Cote de Texas said...

uh, not many of my readers would pay, I'm afraid. Now, your blog - I would pay for !! So interesting and intelligent. Yes, I would pay to read this and just a few others.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Thanks, Joni! That's very sweet of you to say but I think you and my mother might be the only people who would pay to read the EEE blog. But what about a design Huffington Post?

Another issue I have with charging for blogs is that the photographs are all taken from other sources without paying photo permission fees - while the blog is free to read, then one can justify the fair use for educational purposes, but if one is financially benefiting, it becomes trickier....

vicki archer said...

Like all things if we have to pay we will narrow down our choices and be more discerning.
I think we will all spend the same dollars or not - it is just a question of where we place it - magazine or blog?

Toby Worthington said...

As you point out Emily, the design blogs are chiefly reliant on images culled from print media. Amateur digital photographs alone cannot satisfy anyone who's been accustomed to technically proficient images that are carefully lighted, styled etc~which is to say, Magazine Photography.
Why exactly did H&G fold up? Was it really a matter of finances or just another impatient whim of Mr Newhouse of Conde Nast? However much it used to irritate me with it's odd mixture of Sincerity (Ms Browning's heartfelt editorial letters) and hard- boiled trendiness, it at least offered diverse examples of the decorative arts. We'll never see an historic house (or one that wasn't professionally decorated the day before yesterday) in House Beautiful as it is edited today, good though that magazine may be.
As for Mallets going trendy, that would seem to be the last straw.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I, too, wonder about all this. I fear that cheap, easy and sensational have their tentacles throughout much of what passes for design these days and I mourn for the quality only authentic artisans can create. For myself, as much as I love the design blogs I frequent, nothing can replace the tactile experience of curling up with an imaginative, informative, and inspiring magazine. And, don't even get me started on the predicted demise of the newspaper.

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I'm with Pamela and Toby. I have copies of HG that are 30 years old and a few things I clipped in high school! The level of information and technical skill present in the best magazines simply isn't possible on daily or weekly blogs. I want to see the work of experienced professionals and to be able to hold it in my hands. Electronic is fun, lively, fast — but in no way does it replace print. Like Mrs. Blandings, I'm about to drop big bucks to guarantee access to my favorite UK publications.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Many of you raise an excellent point that the quality of the original content of design magazines can't be matched by blogs.

This makes me think about two things:
1. that design books and magazines are in a different category than most other print media because they are very visual - how many people - sadly - don't read the content and just look at the pictures? also, because we are becoming a more visual society rather than a literate one, one would think the design category would be in a stronger position than others....

2. I think a lot of the design magazines have lost a unique point of view - and there's no bite anymore. Everything is a puff piece with no critical edge - that's one thing that blogs - look at Decorno - can offer. Although I loved Domino, I did think it did suffer from a "Usual Suspects" ailment with everyone with a suzani bedspread and ikat pillows (no matter that I love suzanis and ikats).

when pigs fly said...

In regards to illiterate vs highly visual, perhaps those of us to love to be informed rather than eye candied to death will be the nucleus of a design book reformation. I've certainly bought more design books in the last two years as the mags have been on death row. Blogs lack discernment, but as noted they are edgier. I will miss the cycle of anticipation of magazines. Thirty one years ago when my baby was three weeks overdue, my mother-in-law and co magoholic said, "Dear, just think. You'll have new mags to read in the hospital." It was a comforting thought!