Stuck in the middle?

Read an interesting article on trendhunter yesterday, giving an early head’s up on a trend to watch – of aspirational media tempting readers in with credit crunch related cover stories i.e. the likes of Vogue, Bazaar and Elle with very un-Vogue like cover headers such as “affordable luxuries” and “reality chic”. Evidently this seems to be a first for such stories to appear on the cover of these magazines – as generally they look to appeal to audiences that would have no problem spending £1,000 or more on an item of clothing. But the credit crunch is hurting all.

Anyway, this reminded me of some of the comments from Ben Hammersley (editor for the new Wired Uk) made at a talk he gave a few weeks back which i’ve been mulling over. I wasn’t there in person but my colleague Luke Mackay was kind enough to share notes. In that meeting Ben pointed to two key trends for 2009 he’d identified, one of which was “The Dividing”.

This he identified as a split that was occurring between luxury and disposable markets as the “middle-ground” has fallen away. In essence over time, and through 2009 he would see the two spectrums polarising with everything else between these polarities falling by the wayside. This is a trend he’d identified across all industries from fashion to television, to retail to publishing. He noted specifically within the publishing the fact that magazines that, if not thriving, are surviving at either end of the price spectrum from 75p at one end and at the other magazines, often imported, at costs of up to and sometimes beyond £8. Magazines in the middle are suffering and falling away i.e. be cheap or be expensive – don’t be affordable, or average on price.

Ben went on to add that this isn’t about social or economic politics or class or about how much time you spend making something. Both groups are not mutually exclusive for example people can, and will, shop in both Prada and Primark. In each case they know what they’re getting. Ben went on to explain that this trend was seen before in the 1930’s and said that the effect of an “intellectual recession” could be seen as a cause for this “divide”, certainly within publishing.


His recommendation for business – choose your battle, belong to one end of the spectrum and don’t try to be all things to all people. Companies that go for the middle, will fall by the wayside, just as the middle ground has been. Ben used examples of Marks & Spencer’s and Gap as brands that had suffered at the hands of trying to operate in the middle.

I found this quite interesting, and I’m not sure I agree entirely (possibly as I didn’t hear it firs t hand). My “gut” and my “head” would tell me that in these times that the opposite might take place – in essence an “un-dividing”, as prices become cheaper (just check the deflation going on now), peoples spending reduces, the higher end brands/outlets/publishers in-particular would naturally look at ways to appealing to wider audiences (as their market shrinks, or seems to shrink) by reducing prices, releasing lower-end ranges etc.

But anyway, certainly will be interesting to see if Ben’s thoughts for 2009 pan-out – if so, the move by the likes of Vogue could be detrimental to its long term success or, could set the magazine off in a brand new direction.


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