PubTalk: The Other Side of Fragmentation
Most talk of fragmentation concerns the negative. Fragmentation of audiences, content, distribution, sourcing—the great partition of media, which got underway in the 1970s and picked up steam with the rise of the Internet, has undermined many a publisher's business plan and led to the decimation of once-mighty companies like Time Inc., Gannett, Readers' Digest Inc. and the Tribune Company.
That which doesn't gravitate to the safe haven of niche finds itself at the mercy of disparate forces bent on de-associating, aggregating, slicing, dicing, digesting and digressing amid the cacophony of the Web. Media brands, as Nieman Journalism Lab put it a couple of years ago, have been "blown to fragments that arrive sifted by Twitter and Facebook, or are turned up by search."
It can be forgotten that publishing is not the only industry rocked by fragmentation. At a recent talk at Rosemont College, publishing pioneer Patricia Carbine, who ran Look and McCall's before helping to found Ms. magazine, recalled the days when both consumer advertising and consumer magazines were dominated by a few brands.
At McCall's in the early '70s, Carbine struggled with an increasingly straightjacketed operation forced to bend to the dictates of powerful corporations.
To please advertisers, a certain number of pages had to be devoted to fashion or food. "Campbell's Soup … kept a chart of how many times in recipes soup was called for in all of the women's magazines that were being published," Carbine said. "It was Revlon who got furious with the fact that I took the credits—what color lipstick a person was wearing—out of the [photo] captions and put everything in a column in the back of the magazine. We lost Revlon advertising very quickly."
Despite these concessions, at a time when television could provide more eyeballs per dollar than even a magazine with 8 million readers, McCall's saw its fortunes flag. Though better off than the "big three" general interest magazines Look (closed 1971), Life (ended weekly publication in 1972), or The Saturday Evening Post (declared bankruptcy 1969), Carbine found McCall's could not speak for her or many other contemporary women, and left to co-found Ms. in 1972.