Could teen magazine rise further?
When Casey Lewis was a teenager in the early 2000s, she would come home from school every day, eager to find the latest issue of Seventeen Where Vogue teens Where her girl waiting on the kitchen counter. It was the era of low-rise jeans, ‘NSync’ center pleats, and unironic practical topics about the principle that there is a right way to be a teenager. If two numbers came up in one day, Lewis said, “It was like winning the lottery.” She would take the magazines to her room and read them like textbooks, leaning over every story, every legend. She was trying to memorize style tips and dress credits because the most sophisticated people her age understood not only which brands were in fashion, but also what it would communicate to wear those brands. Throughout the month, Lewis returned to magazines, using them to solve period questions and guess if her latest crush liked her back, because in the pre-Google era she trusted the editors of Seventeen more than she trusted Jeeves.
“I loved the teen magazines,” she said, when asked about her encyclopedic knowledge of back issues, “I loved them”. They spoke to the type of person Lewis wanted to be. Deep in her mind, she imagined a version of herself following the advice of glossaries and living a perfect life. She was at an age where she still believed adults knew about the secrets of the universe, and she identified with publisher Atoosa Rubenstein, who founded CosmoGirl, in 1998, at the age of twenty-six, and later became the editor of Seventeen. Rubenstein “put his awkward teenage photos in the editor’s letter,” Lewis recalls, “and it sounded like such a revolutionary thing.” As a student, Lewis interned at Vogue teens and returned to the magazine twice before becoming a Senior Digital Editor in 2015. The following year, she left to launch a teenage newsletter called “Clover Letter,” which was later acquired by media company Gen Z AwesomenessTV.
“What I really can’t explain is why the appeal of teen magazines hasn’t gone away for me,” Lewis said. (She is now writing a youth culture sub-stack called “After School.”) In 2018, she returned home to Palmyra, Missouri for vacation. Beginner had just folded, and Seventeen and Vogue teens had reduced their printing problems. Feeling nostalgic for the golden age of teenage media, Lewis began digging through hundreds of old issues that she had saved in her childhood home and discovered a number of fascinating artifacts there, including including a photo of Glossier founder Emily Weiss as an authority on savings and celebrity quotes such as “I love that I can use my cell phone to go to the ‘Net’. ”She opened an Instagram account, named it @thankyouatoosa, and began posting pages from her archive that had aged oddly or seemed oddly premonitory. Showing the spreads at face value, the account is equally a celebration and a clean one.
Today, a kids’ post would never run a diet tip or a headline like “He’s Hot and Makes a Wicked Veggie Burger, But Is It Worth Hanging On For The Whole School Year?” Many points of sale, such as her girl, CosmoGirl, Jump, MJ, and Teens– have completely ceased to exist. There are no longer any corporate magazines for teenagers in print, apart from Seventeen Special problems. Brands that once told teens what they should like are now struggling to keep up with the young designer ecosystem, where young influencers exchange recommendations with their peers for free, and sponsored posts have effectively replaced advertising. While teens previously trusted the wisdom of women between the ages of four and twenty, they are now turning to other teens on TikTok. Another change seems to lie in what teens see as exactly aspiration. Most of the teenage magazines in the old days focused on cookie-cutter perfection, but now everyone wants to be “authentic”.
But not all teen magazines were cookie-cutter. From 1988 to 1996, the twenty women behind Insolent helped teenage girls become the most authentic themselves – spanning the riot movement and quietly educating young women about feminism – thus garnering a cult following. Issues of the magazine are regularly listed on eBay for nearly a hundred dollars each. In 2007, Faber & Faber published a love letter to the magazine, written by Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer, titled “How Sassy Changed My Life”. “We were there to get the attention of the girl hanging out at the mall or checking out the grocery store with her mom,” magazine editor Jane Pratt said. “She would see covers that might have a superficial element, but then, when she picked it up and started looking at it, she would be subversively nourished with a message of self-acceptance and empowerment that wasn’t what it was for.” she expected. “
In the twenties, there was another teen magazine that talked about the desire to live authentically, reached readers already frustrated with the mainstream, and could be used as a model for a teen magazine today. Beginner, founded by Tavi Gevinson, in 2011 (a year after Instagram launched), published teenage and emerging artists whose work aimed to “make the most of the beautiful pain and awkwardness worthy of being a teenage girl, ”according to the first letter from Gevinson’s editor. Like many adolescents, Diya Chordia, a nineteen-year-old from Rajasthan, India, described Beginner like the first magazine where she saw her sensibility reflected on her, as many of the contributors were teenagers themselves who explored topics at the intersection of femininity and ambition. “It’s formed a community around it, and right now I feel like it’s more fragmented,” Chordia said of the current media landscape. Social media has not been a major traffic driver for Beginner, Gevinson told me in an email. The community grew out of a dedicated readership, whose members visited the site an average of 7.7 times per month. “Our direct traffic was three times the traffic through social media,” Gevinson said. “Our audience was really loyal and interested in curated, edited, and often long-lasting content that social media just isn’t really designed for. “
Beginner was founded at a time when Instagram was emerging, YouTube was gaining momentum, and mainstream teen magazines struggled to stay relevant. Gevinson got it. “When our editor Lauren Redding and I raised funds for Beginner, we hoped to make it a network and a community of creators where everything would not have to go through our editors to be shared, and where people could pin each other’s work and ideas and be inspired by them ”, a- she writes. “With TikTok and Instagram, it seems a lot of old Beginner readers or aspirants-Beginner– users have taken this type of network in hand. Although Beginner didn’t eventually become a network of creators, it was clear from launch that publishers saw it as a place where young people could create content for each other. Rubenstein, the elder Seventeen editor, describes Beginner like “a big lab” – with the caveat that “maybe a lab can create Coca-Cola; a laboratory is not Coca Cola. “In other words, although Beginner only reached six hundred thousand readers per month (according to figures provided by Gevinson), its aesthetic and philosophical influence rippled through young creatives online, who reached millions of readers. Six hundred thousand readers is a big readership for any magazine these days, but in 2011 Seventeen would have reached thirteen million per month.
Beginner also leveled the playing field when selecting talent and contributors. According to Gevinson, Beginner contributors sought through a submission inbox and spotted them on social media. “Sometimes readers would also send their work to our office or bring it to me at live events and thus become independent contributors,” Gevinson wrote. “When our team was big enough, I was so happy that our writers could take the time to work closely with new contributors to develop their work, as it was rare to find work ready to be published as is, but common to be confronted with strong ideas that people just needed help shaping. (Mostly being teenagers or not having posted before.) ”
While teenage posts and social media content both compete for attention in the attention economy, a magazine is unlikely to ever achieve circulation from a single viral TikTok. “Vogue teens isn’t really a competition for TikTok, ”said Rubenstein, who now writes a first-person sub-stack called“ Atoosa Undited ”. She sees young influencer content as a peer-to-peer phone game and fears that “established opinion leaders” (i.e. adults) may no longer wield enough influence over an impressionable demographic. “You turn to your friend, and your friend tells you about sex or your body, and half the shit they say is fake. We’re in this place again, but much more powerful, ”she said, because instead of hearing misinformation from a friend, teens listen to strangers in California with millions of followers ( and perceived credibility) on TikTok. At such a formative age, young people “need really solid advice, and the last place they want to get it is their parents,” she said. “Who are they turning to? For my child, that scares the hell out of me to whom she turns. During Rubenstein Seventeen years, she and the staff “wanted to make sure that everything in the magazine was correct, that it made sense,” she said. “It went through a very serious verification process. Let’s go. These kids have no access to any control, you know? No one controls their TikTok videos. (See: the nutmeg challenge.)