Monday, May 14, 2012

Is Brainstorm Magazine South Africa's Most Boring Publication?

If you've a) never heard of Brainstorm magazine, and b) never seen it on the shelves anywhere, you can be forgiven.  It's possibly the most boring magazine published in South Africa.  The covers look as though someone rifled through a stack of photos and found the most bland and forgettable one.

I know what they're trying to do; they're after that slick, smart, corporate look.  But I suppose in order to do slick, you have to be slick, in order to do smart, you also have to be smart.  Trouble is the content points to a serious lack of creativity and imagination, and on the rare occasion that the editors try something different, it irks.  On one occasion Die Antwoord featured on the cover, including a badly doctored shot covering the male member (literally).  Amazing.  You have this pursuit of a corporate identity and then for one particular issue why not slap Die Antwoord on the cover (just because we can).  I guess for some people that's creative.

I happen to have a copy of that magazine, with the Die Antwoord cover and feature.  I'm not sure why, but I never bothered to read the article.  What could an IT magazine possibly have to say about a rock band?  I did look at the pictures, which were great, but once again, the back street trailer trash vibe and the whole zef psychology seems to be the antithesis of the corporate blue look and feel.  As I say, in order to do smart, you have to be smart.

Another blapse was the piece on the late Steve Jobs.  You'd think that this magazine, which claims on its website to be world-class analytical reporting on topical issues focusing on the people, issues, trends and technologies shaping South-African'd think they'd be a good bet for an insightful, informative read about this most iconic of tech entrepreneurs.  Except, and I cannot explain why, it was just more boring boring boring.  There's something wrong when you know more than an article that appears 2 months after the fact, and what you know has been picked up via hearsay, the news, and curious browsing. Please, that's not world-class journalism.  That's a very very late newspaper article with a bit of gloss and shine.

On the few occasions that my work has been published in Dull and DumberStorm, and I've attempted to find the magazine on the shelves, it's literally been like looking for a needle in the haystack, because the magazine never stands out.  In fact on more than one occasion I've called and said I can't find it, and you'd think one of the largest shopping malls in the Southern Hemisphere, Canal Walk, would stock it at just one of their super book stores.  Even when it's right in front of you it's hard to actually see it.  Could the designers be consciously trying to camouflage the title in order to render it invisible?  And if you're wondering why a world class read is not available at Pick 'n Pay, or Spar or anywhere else, well, presumably because it requires world class readers (which is code for an incredibly small, discerning, basically invisible audience.)  In layman's terms, the magazine is so good, nobody reads it.

Yes, Brainstorm's audience is so incredibly discerning as to be...very very thin, which is why they are going ballistic right now, trying to sell subscriptions along with [GASP] a digital photo frame. It's trumpeted on their website, and on this month's cover.  That's one thing I do remember about this months' cover, although since I have a desktop and a laptop and they're both adequate photoframes in themselves - once the screensaver kicks in - I really don't need a photoframe (nor, one would presume, would their target market and for similar reasons).
They're desperate for subscriptions, let me assure you.  So much so, in fact, that they even have their own freelancers subscribed to up their circulation numbers. But don't take my word for it, take theirs.  8 635 magazines printed per month, of which a miserable 6775 are sold.  The sales/subscription number is artificially inflated, because, as I say, the magazine is simply given away to every freelancer that writes for them (and given away for free).
Also, those circulation numbers which appear on their website right now are two years old, which presupposes that they have gone down since then, hence the failure to update.  Well, it's tough times for the magazine industry isn't it, so perhaps they should be given a break?
Not so fast. 

How does a random competitor to Brainstorm fare?  Wow, that's better. You can immediately sense a little imagination is on the loose here.  [See image above]. Panorama's Braintainment, which has been around far shorter than Brainstorm (since the end of 2011), probably figured they could do the job better, and they do.  Braintainment has a circulation of 26 500.  That's 3 times more magazines sold, and guess what, their advertising rates are about the same.  So guess who is offering better value?

In terms of the magazine itself, well it's subjective isn't it?  What I can tell you is that just yesterday my girlfriend picked Braintainment off the table and started browsing through it, and noted immediately how interesting it was.  She had glanced at the cover, assumed it was Brainstorm, and then registered surprise at how interesting it was, and then flipped back to check the cover.  Her reaction was, "Oh, that makes sense.  It's another magazine."
On the odd occasion that I have shown her a Brainstorm magazine, she will limit her reading to my articles only.  Funnily enough, so do I.  I cannot honestly say I have ever done more than glance at pictures or read the odd sentence or paragraph in the magazine. While I've worked hard to write rivetting content for them, I've certainly never been able to read content  (as in whole articles) from that magazine. Here's why. Look at this classic Brainstorm cover immediately below.  A woman in a scarf.  Might as well be my aunty.

So how does the magazine make money? I'm not sure if it is - the magazine I mean. It reminds me of those Caxton community newspapers that feel thick and juicy, but when you open them up, the gloss is all supplements and advertising (in other words, junk content). That's the meat of it. The magazine is an excuse to direct mail their clients advertising spam. Something else in my humble opinion that isn't good business, is a publication that criticises one of their own clients. In this month's issue, it has the usual mandatory stuck record article on the MXIT CEO (something one can rely on in virtually every issue), but as a departure, there appears to be an interesting, investigative piece lambasting ABSA for being a bunch of crooks (in terms of their current lousy employment practise).  This happens to be a very ironic point of view for them, but let's leave that for now. 
I presume the ABSA piece is not a bad article, but it's once again an odd move considering this bank is one of ITWEB's biggest clients (and Brainstorm belongs to ITWEB), and they - ITWEB -  do custom publishing for ABSA Capital. So which is it? A hard hitting story about a bank that's full of tricks, an expose, or a magazine that's pretending to be investigative, but is really greasing its paws both ways. I have no idea.

Of course, none of this matters since no one has heard of the publication, and even if you were curious, you wouldn't find anything to read online since all their online content is behind a pay wall (it's that good). Oddly enough, in trying to find the images for this blog post, the few good one's that come up on Googles image search are from my own blog. That's how good a magazine about the IT industry has marketed itself online.

There are finer details to describe, such as slapdash editing - the publishing of entire paragraphs in duplicate, but once again, no one would notice these things even less bring these oversights to the attention of the editor, because no one is reading the magazine to begin with. And where is the editor? This month the magazine came out about a week late, and over the Christmas period one magazine appeared in the space of two months. During the same period a few of ITWEB's staff holidayed in Mauritius. Naturally, no one missed the magazine.  And this month, since they simply forgot to publish one of their own commissions, again, neither will I.  I predict that by the end of this year, Brainstorm will literally disappear off the few shelves it still appears on (such as at select CNA stores), and good riddance.  It's rubbish.

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