CosmoGirl, Teen Magazines, And The Coming Media Shakeout The Economic Downturn Will Bring

Portfolio’s Jeff Bercovici breaks the news that Hearst Magazines is shuttering Cosmogirl. This marks what’s just about the final chapter for the media bubble that briefly blew up in the teen magazine category.

Between 1998 and 2003, the teen magazine category swelled from its traditional three—Teen, Seventeen, and YM—to seven. The newcomers, in order of entry: Teen People, Cosmogirl, Elle Girl, and Teen Vogue. (The first crack at a new kind of teen magazine, the beloved-to-a-certain-subset Sassy, folded in 1996.)

Long story short: A magazine category that went from three major magazines to seven in the span of five years ran smack-dab into the MySpace-ization of media, and the teen magazines started to shut down. There is now a grand total of two teen titles left: Seventeen and Teen Vogue.

But none of this has anything to do with our current economic tumult.

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan is spinning this news as the first crack of what the coming recession will to do magazines. I’ve no doubt he’s right in that a bunch more are coming. (I primarily wrote about the magazine business in my prior job at Ad Age, where I worked between 2000 and 2005. Whenever a major mag went under while I was there, I saved its last issue in a pile on my desk. It was a huge heap when I left in mid-2005: Talk, George, Mademoiselle, Industry Standard, Working Woman . . . I could go on. For a long, long time.)

But CosmoGirl isn’t part of the next big shakeout. It’s the last of a previous one, the near-final cull of a category that at once was oversaturated with products, and also aimed at those that find immediate Web media and self-created content much more compelling than print product that appears once a month.

This is not to dismiss what’s about to happen when the recession really hits. My just-out column, which was written before this week set all sorts of records for financial awfulness, is all about the coming contraction in advertising spending.

If I still kept that pile of final issues on my desk, it would get a lot bigger in the next 18 months. And I bet I’d be adding a few big-city newspapers to it as well. But CosmoGirl shuttering isn't part of a correction based on a new economic reality. It's part of a much older one.