Are You Feeling Lucky?

Consumption has never been more conspicuous. With 11 pages of shoes you'd kill for! and a centerfold dedicated to "dreampuffs"—as in makeup sponges—Conde Nast's new Lucky magazine is a glossy paean to the art of shopping. And nothing else. Banished are the features on health and relationships, gone are the 10 tips to tighter buns—staples of even the flimsiest fashion magazines. In Lucky, words and ideas are caption size—only prices and style numbers are relevant. It's 202 pages of irrational exuberance over stuff. Yes, it blurs the line between advertising and editorial, and yes, it promotes what can only be called shoe-nography, but get over it, says Editor in Chief Kim France. "We've got all this stuff, but we're not selling you a bill of goods," she says. "And what makes it fresh is that we're doing it without all the window dressing people are used to."

That lack of window dressing, what you might call substance, is exactly what's making Lucky controversial. A half-million copies of the test issue hit newsstands last month and, if Conde Nast sells enough, it probably will launch in the fall. That may thrill shoppers, but for some in the magazine business, Lucky is the most egregious example yet of a trend in which magazines are becoming glorified catalogs. "I think it's a sad commentary on magazines," says media consultant Martin Walker. "A magazine needs an editorial vision. One could argue that nothingness is an idea—yes, white on a white canvas hung in a museum—but the fact is that in the end there's nothing there."

Actually, what's there is just about everything, from an $11 Philippe Starck stapler to $760 Manolo Blahnik silver-studded sandals—not to mention yes and maybe stickers to mark the items that catch your eye. For travelers, there's a shoppers' guide to London, and there's even a photo spread about picking the perfect pet. France hopes to appeal to women who are out of school, but don't have the kids and the mortgage to spend their money on. The magazine has a young voice and a Sassy (as in the late, great girl magazine) attitude. It's clever enough to know it's thumbing its nose at the rules, and that wink is part of the appeal.

Whether Lucky gets lucky with its readers, shopping titles look to be a wave of the future. Ziff Davis just shipped 400,000 premiere copies of eshopper, aimed at upscale Web-buying women, and in the fall, Hearst will test Real Deals, for Good Housekeeping readers. One advertising exec foresees a flood of titles catering to every imaginable market—including men and teens, and high-tech enthusiasts. Susan Ungaro, editor in chief of Family Circle and a member of the board of directors of the American Society of Magazine Editors, worries that these "magalogs" will erode reader trust—Lucky is all picks, no pans—and she fears that inevitably magazines will try to share in the profits from the sale of goods in their pages. Asked if there were any such arrangements at Lucky, an offended Conde Nast president Steven T. Florio says, "I don't even know where that question came from. There will be no blurring of the lines on any Conde Nast magazine. The advertisers advertise and the editors create editorial and one thing has nothing to do with the other."

Except, of course, for the way they flow together so seamlessly in Lucky, which could make the magazine a big hit with advertisers. "If your product is in the editorial content, rather than being in the advertising, there's always a much greater air of credibility," says Debbie Solomon, senior partner and media researcher at J. Walter Thompson. "And if it's in both, then there's a synergy there." Lucky's editorial pages are littered with manufacturers' 800 numbers and Web addresses, which amplifies the buyer-friendly atmosphere and offers potential advertisers plenty of feedback. "It's hard for manufacturers to know if they're selling more of an item just because it was pictured in a traditional fashion spread," says Roberta Garfinkle, director of print media at Universal McCann. "But here, if you get a bump in sales of a particular item, you should be able to tell, and fairly quickly." The most direct reader response is available at Lucky's Web site, which urges visitors to "buy your favorite item straight from Lucky," and includes links to the makers of items selected by the editors. While some are concerned that advertisers might abandon less shopping-friendly, article-heavy venues like The New Yorker for the shoe-mad world of Lucky and the like, Solomon doesn't see it happening: "Some of the advertising you do is to create an image and not to immediately sell the product. Sometimes you just want to be in a certain magazine environment."

The Lucky environment not only celebrates the joys of shopping, it even manages to transcend print. The magazine is carefully designed to play off the new habits—and mentality—that readers have developed on the Internet. "These new magazines are just jumping on an easy-access, shopper-materialism bandwagon that the Internet and the economy have fostered," says Ungaro. It's point-and-stick shopping—using the stickers, phone numbers and Web sites, readers can simulate the instant gratification of cyberspace. You won't find all those www's in Vogue.

If Lucky is more savvy about selling than existing women's magazines, it's also easy to see it as more demeaning. "It plays to that stereotype that this is what women want to do with their time," says Gloria Jacobs, editor of Ms. magazine. To France, the idea that a feminist can't love shopping is itself a stereotype: "I think a lot of women's magazines provide a lot of good information, but how patronizing and condescending is the idea that women's magazines have to do it all? I don't need to prove I'm smart by including an excerpt from Martin Amis. It raises my feminist hackles. If I want news, I'll turn on CNN." And if she wants shoes, well, she knows where to look.