Some magazines linger as a cultural shibboleth -- Sassy, Might, Spy and, of course, Domino. The latter was a home decor magazine spun off from shopping bible Lucky, and it ran for four years, garnered numerous magazine awards, commanded a respectable 800K circulation and became shorthand for a kind of style that blended girly, Kelly Wearstler luxe with sleek modernism.
The original magazine was appealing for a number of reasons. The front-of-the-book features were more instructional (histories of design titans, DIYs on flower arranging or home reorganizing, product round-ups) and the main features aspirational. The overall vibe was a lot fresher and younger than other decor magazines. It was easy to draw the line from a Ligne Roset chair to its knockoff at Target.
Since Domino was born of the real estate bubble and corresponding boom in interior-design consumption, it's no surprise that it fell victim to the recession. Since then, Conde Nast has exploited people's strong emotional attachment to the brand by issuing the occasional special edition, i.e. a collection of old articles grouped around a theme.
And now, Domino is back. Or rather, the brand is back and the $12-per-quarter magazine is being repositioned as an e-commerce company. I picked up my copy yesterday and spent an afternoon reading it. My verdict: Wrong product, wrong time.
For example, the floral arrangement feature I liked had a lovely vase with a finish like a chalkboard and no shopping information for that piece. When I went on the site to see if there was any information, that specific article was nowhere to be found. Instead, there was a link to a floral arragement article that was eight years old. The integration between print (editorial) product and website (commerce) feels clunky and driven more by backend business organization than reader experience.
I'm not lukewarm on Domino because I have high-falutin' notions about the separation of art and commerce. I think Fetch magazine by Taigan is doing a wonderful job of blending lifestyle/decor writing with e-commerce. Their stuff isn't always to my taste, but the writing has a clear and distinctive editorial voice and each piece perfectly fits the Web as a medium.
My problem is that this iteration of Domino feels like it would have been a good idea ten years ago, but it is not taking advantage of Web trends and user behavior in 2013. For example, Pinterest is a powerful brand-extending tool for publications, yet their Pinterest board doesn't highlight any of their articles or extend the editorial beyond the page; it's a boring collection by type of room.
Another aspect of online decorating culture is the blog-DIY loop: Magazines now have blogs to extend or supplement their print features, and a lot of the marquee blogs have DIYs or their house tours list sources and how-tos. As a result, there's a tremendous amount of excitement on the part of the readers: They can learn, do and adapt cool new things for their own residence. The print issue of Domino is silent on how to do anything for your house beyond shopping for it.
Forgive me for getting all Erich Fromm on you all, but if there really are two different orientations toward the world -- "having" versus "being" -- then the focus on shopping is a pure "having" play, and one that doesn't empower the reader; it limits her to what her bank account can provide her. A state of "being," i.e. when you master skills, amass experiences and engage in the world, is ultimately a more satisfying way to conduct your life. It is also one that is ripe for editorial engagement on the Web.
I went back at looked at a collection of back issues I have for another magazine casualty of the Aughties, Blueprint magazine. The thing went out of print seven years ago, but it's striking how fresh the content still feels: As with other Martha Stewart Omnimedia brands, the primary emphasis is on learning the foundational basics for a particular skill set and then finding creative ways to use those skills. It was a brand meant to focus on fully living a stylish life, or being in it.
(Something is amiss with your brand if a seven-years-gone competitor is still feeling more relevant.)
The most exciting thing about decor blogs and Pinterest is the emphasis on being. One of the coolest things I've seen in that space is Anna Beth Chao's design camps, which offer an opportunity to move from "I like what I see in that blog post" to "I can learn how to do that for myself."
It's a little sad, because one of the appealing things about the original Domino magazine was its balance between having and being. The magazine was all about making style feel attainable, both through shopping and skill, and the high regard that its book, Domino: The Book of Decorating, commands shows that the brand had once hit this sweet spot.
I am curious to learn why this iteration of Domino persists in a state of having in this, an age where decor sources thrive by adopting the language and content of being. Granted, some of the best sales pitches position acquisition (i.e. having) in the language of experience -- look at how Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma work with their promises that buying specific equipment will give you the skills of a great cook and the experience of gracious hostessing. But even in the attempt to sell the state of being, Domino falls short. It's relying on reader goodwill from four years ago, but it hasn't acknowledged that we have all moved on.