Luxury Magazine and the Strange Phenomenon of Magazines for the idle Rich (essay

One of the most fascinating trends these days in Korea -which is paralleled in China and around the world- is the emergence of glossy magazines aimed at the super rich, or perhaps the want-to-be super rich, that are found in hotels,  airports, coffee shops and boutiques. I selected the magazine Luxury, but I could have presented any number of this form of magazine. These magazines feature advertisements for expensive watches, clothes and other items completely out of the range of most people. 

Recently we find these magazines in hotels, cafes and airports, read by Koreans who cannot possibly afford what is advertised. I would go as far as to say that such journals are crowding out other forms of communication. For example,  I recently asked at the Shilla Hotel for Sin Dong-a, a major journal and was told that is it not sold at their bookstore. I was astonished. But at the same time, these magazines are found everywhere in hotels.

For the most part, these magazines describe a timeless and unchanging world of fashionable good living with no analysis or consideration of historical and economic trends. I can imagine that if you read them for some time, you would have trouble making sense of the world.

I am not sure how to read this phenomenon. In a recent conversation with John Feffer, he suggested to me that perhaps the profit to be made off of targeting one of the super rich is now so great that such luxury products displace standard products. He may be right. If you go to an airport, you will find that the barber shops, coffee shops, bookstores and t-shirt outlets have been replaced by stores for extremely expensive clothes, watches and cosmetics which are basically empty. A young women sits there all day long in one of these stores, alone for most of the time. But it could well be that the profit from one or two sales is sufficient to surpass what can be made from selling hundreds of newspapers, cups of coffee, t-shirts and small souvenirs.

Luxury Magazine, November 2011 EditionTravel section of Luxury MagazineLuxury watches in Luxury Magazine

4 responses to “Luxury Magazine and the Strange Phenomenon of Magazines for the idle Rich (essay

  1. Matthew Nelson December 10, 2011 at 3:08 am

    This is a disturbing trend. If the super rich subscribe I can almost ignore it, but when I see so many middle class Koreans wasting their time on such vacuous items and attempting to pursue such a lifestyle, with horrible consequences, I can’t seem to ignore that. I feel that the pressure to adhere to, or at the very least, to appear to subscribe to such a lifestyle is much greater in Korea than in other countries I have lived in.

    • Emanuel Pastreich December 13, 2011 at 3:57 am

      Of course the Shilla Hotel attracts an elite crowd. There is nothing new about that. And I am not so naive as to assume that such a world will cease to exist in the future. Such divisions are a part of human nature. But the fact that journals with at least some content to them, like Shin Dong-a (신동아 ), are not even for sale at the Shilla Hotel suggests something is wrong. That was not true five years ago. That the wealthy no longer have a duty to understand what is happening in the world is a disturbing trend.

      The tragedy is that so many embrace the rather banal world presented in such journals. One can compare it with the world of connoisseurship of fifty years ago. I would not say that the efforts of the super rich to cultivate an understanding of Renaissance art, or impressionism, in the 1950s and 1960s (or 30s and 40s), were particularly progressive in nature, but there was an intellectual content, and to some degree, social aspect to such engagement. Bernard Berenson, for example, did much to encourage a greater intellectual engagement by rich Americans. But today, the expensive stores sell hand bags, watches and clothes which although expensive, and made of high quality material, are quite homogeneous. Little intellectual challenge can be detected in the world presented by the magazine Luxury.

  2. Tom Arrison December 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I suspect that this is partly an artifact of trends in the magazine publishing business. Robb Report and similar titles have long been a staple of bookstores and 7 Elevens here in the U.S.

    My hypothesis is that print magazines relying on subscribers and newsstand sales are almost uniformly declining in most parts of the world. The only parts of the market that are expanding are those that can pay for themselves exclusively through advertising, which these luxury magazines can. I suspect that they have very few paid subscribers, and any newsstand sales are just a bonus. The publishers may be willing to give them away or pay the newsstand to carry them.

    There’s been a consolidation of the companies publishing luxury titles in the U.S., and it wouldn’t be surprising if Korea is seen as a growth market. I’d be interested in whether the publishers are local or international. It could be that Korean publishers are adapting the concept to the local market.

    I also think there’s a tendency for a segment of some societies with growing economies to become obsessed with luxury brands once they hit a certain income level. We saw this in Japan in the 80s.

  3. convinceable December 13, 2011 at 12:53 am

    The silver lining may be that fewer total resources are used when production abandons the pedestrian mass market for discretionary items to serve an elite market for discretionary items.

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