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What is it about the shared experience that we find so appealing? What is it about cracking up with friends about fashion faux pas from our pasts, quoting lines from that one Fresh Prince episode, belting out melodies from the soundtrack to The Lion King, or comparing memories of where we were when we heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center?
We crave these nostalgic connections, perhaps, because they assure us that our experiences are valid; they help to create a common bond. Indulging these reminiscing tendencies is only possible, however, because the scope of our influence growing up was limited, relative to what we have access to today.
Where we used to get our information from streamlined, albeit scarce, sources, information was reliably accessible from a set number of outlets, but here we are. Page-turners have made way for e-readers, network nightly news has made way for cable networks allowing us to see the world through the lens we want, and disc jockeys have made way for tiny white wires cocooning us in a playlist chosen just for us.
Despite this move toward the intangible, two magazines still vie for our attention here in the Capital City in order to help build that common bond among a people, and validate our experiences. Some may wonder if the size of Sacramento, and the number of goings on warrants having two separate magazines, but their respective online presence, content, and ad choices speak for themselves in distinct ways.
In addition to websites and blogs, here in our city, we have our share of print publications. There are the weekly free publications, a la Submerge, Outword, Sacramento News and Review, and so on, our newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, and our two magazines – Sacramento Magazine, and Sactown Magazine. These latter two prompted some interesting reactions when I asked anecdotally what people thought, to the tune of “Oh, I didn’t realize there were two separate magazines,” “I don’t read magazines,” “I don’t read either one,” “I don’t really perceive a difference,” “I know what to do on the weekends because of SacMag,” or “I’d definitely read Sactown over SacMag.”
I find it hard to imagine people perceiving the two magazines as the same, as I can’t help but see very real differences, but that was the number-one reaction I received from the 50 or so people I asked – from grocery store cashiers to coffee shop baristas, neighbors and farmers market workers.
Granted, it was by no means a scientific study, but folks’ general ambivalence led me to wonder if it isn’t so much a question of SacMag versus Sactown, as it is print magazines versus online content. This hunch led me to find some cold, hard facts – and cold and hard they were.
According to the most recent Annual Report on American Journalism, from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “although the decline eased slightly from previous years, overall print magazine circulation was down 1%.” Paid subscriptions, which make up roughly 92% of magazine sales were flat in 2011 – the year of the report, and newsstand sales of single magazines were down 9% from the previous year.
Has our move away from reading tangible pages made us intolerant of text? Perhaps some of you reading right now are starting to feel the itch in your scrolling finger to just get to the charts and bullet points already and bypass all of this pesky text. Well, suffer no longer; if you’re looking for the magazine that best fits you, the charts below capture some telling differences between the two.
|SACRAMENTO MAGAZINE||SACTOWN MAGAZINE|
|Number of Likes on the magazine’s most recent Facebook posts*||6, 38, 21, 18, 10, 4, 3||91, 41, 430, 131, 505, 328, 210|
|Total Facebook Page Likes*||12,955||33,145|
|Number of “People Talking about This” on Facebook *||493||3,100|
|“Most Engaged” age group, according to Facebook activity*||Ages 25-44||Ages 25-34|
|Category headers on magazine’s website||Eat + Drink, Go + Do, Events, Escape, Home + Garden, Health, Snapshots, Magazine||Features, Food + Drink, Arts + Entertainment, Parties, Opinion, Travel, Style + Design, Best of the City|
|Social Media Presence||Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, RSS Feed, Pinterest||Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube (seemingly defunct for past year)|
|Number of Twitter Followers*||19,278||20,623|
*Information gathered October 8, 2014; subject to change.
By the numbers, one can see how each magazine tries to eek out its own slice of the Sacramento audience. Sacramento Magazine, for example, has a slightly older demographic, which may explain why it has less impact on the social media front. Though, while the age of its readers certainly factors in, the frequency of publication also helps dictate the amount of traffic each magazine receives. Sactown Magazine arguably needs a better online presence because it only publishes a print issue every other month. This means that if they set the cutoff press date for their August/September issue some time in July, there’s no way that ink on paper can keep up with the events that pop up, the news that surfaces, or the public’s reactions to said events and news. Therefore, one can only assume that a strong online presence – both on its own site and on social media – would be a top priority for Sactown. And it shows.
Visiting sacmag.com and sactownmag.com, the superiority of Sactown’s site is obvious, even from a strictly aesthetic standpoint. The sheer number of colors used on each site colors, if you will, the feeling you have while visiting. Likewise, Sactown’s photos change in their “Out and About” section, where SacMag’s “Snapshots” are static. A searchable events calendar widget and a running feed of Tweets flank the content on Sactown’s site, where SacMag’s site runs on a very basic layout of headers, chronological posts, and white boxes categorizing links.
As for the features and content of the websites, both offer access to their annual superlative-centered lists – “Best of Sacramento” from SacMag, and “Best of the City” from Sactown. Both offer access to print content, in the form of SacMag’s “Most Popular Articles” top 5 list, and Sactown’s “Popular Articles” top 10 list. The ratio of original online content to online access to print content, however, falls in Sactown’s favor, most likely due to the aforementioned need to stay current online when they can’t always do so in print.
Also, each magazine uses its online presence differently to engage with its readers in a more real-time fashion than print reporting affords. Sactown Magazine’s site boasts several niche blogs on its site, including “The City,” “The Weekender,” and “What’s Cooking,” each including unique content. Meanwhile, Sacramento Magazine’s site offers access to “The Newsletter,” an e-mail where users can check boxes denoting what kind of information they would like to receive. But for those who want that curated experience on the site itself, they are Sac out of luck.
|Motto||Your guide to getting the most out of the Sacramento region.||Sacramento region’s largest and most respected city magazine.|
|Creators/founders||City and Regional Magazine Association, with a member directory of dozens of city magazines (est. 1975)||Two journalists who wanted to “bring a national quality magazine to California’s capital city” (est. 2006) (update: City and Regional Magazine Association)|
|# of pgs. devoted to cover story||10||15|
|First 10 full-page print advertisements in a 2014 issue||The Firehouse Restaurant, Sutter Health, Western Health Advantage, Hamilton Jewelers, Thunder Valley Casino, Amador Vintners, California Closets, Hoshall’s Salon & Spa, Total Beauty Experience, California Family Health & Fitness||Fountains at Roseville, Weintraub Tobin Law Corporation, Arden Fair Mall, Corona, Shane Co. Jewelers, Macys, Broadway Sacramento, Intel, Safe Credit Union, Wells Fargo|
The covers of both Sacramento Magazine and Sactown Magazine showcase must-visit lists for wine country, and Lake Tahoe, respectively. One might notice the irony of highlighting non-Sacramento locales in Sacramento-specific magazines, but its driving-distance proximity to some of California’s best spots is certainly one of Sacramento’s selling points. Both articles read pretty comparably – with gushing voice relaying the perfection of each destination. Each article takes a similar approach in its cover story by creating travel itineraries, recommending restaurants and accommodations, and enticing its readers with scenic photos. A rather lengthy “Special Advertising Section” also follows each story (about Lake Tahoe, and wines), which brings into the fold the relationship between advertising and content.
Advertising is a necessary evil – both online and in print. It pays for writers, printing costs, and to keep the lights on, but questions of how much, and what kind matter. Advertisers follow us around the World Wide Web, counter-intuitively trying to convince us to shop where we already do, using hyper-personalization to at once lure and unnerve us. Meanwhile, without fancy algorithms, print publishers have to make very conscientious choices as to who to get in bed with, as the half-page ad cozied up next to a given article can either confirm or deny a reader’s connection.
Sacramentans – whether they’re aware of it or not – are either SacMag people, or Sactown people. While not everyone in town reads either or both, one magazine’s angle speaks to us more than the other. Yes, even you. If hard-pressed to choose a magazine you like better, you would be able to discern enough of a difference to make a choice, depending on where in the region you live, how old you are, and what your interests are. Case in point, the front covers of the current issues list the following features. See if you can figure out which articles belong to which magazine:
|Sunset Cruises + Horseback riding + Tahoe’s Top 5 Hikes + Stargazing with an Astronomer + Scuba Diving to Sunken Boats + Summer Mountain Tubing + Ziplining through Treetops||Mastectomy for Prevention: One Woman’s Story, Escape to Hawaii, Taking a Gap Year, Local Winners of the State Fair Wine Competition|
Looking at the “Most Engaged” age group on Facebook, with Sactown coming in at 25-34, and SacMag at 25-44, it is easy to tell which headlines belong to which magazine (spoiler: Sactown the left, and SacMag the right). While 44 is by no means old, the likelihood that breast cancer is more prevalent amongst friends and family, and that you have an eighteen-year-old contemplating a gap year is exponentially more likely than if you’re 34. And because of the differences in experiences, priorities and interests represented in that decade age gap, the types of advertisers vary too:
|Online advertisers (after hitting “Refresh” 5 times)||Español Italian Restaurant, The Melting Pot, The Party Concierge, Jackson Rancheria, Porter Scott Attorneys||Hot Italian, Farm-to-Fork Capital, Sacramento Zoo, United Way|
Generalizations are dangerous things; however, this chart does emphasize some differences in target audience. Sacramento Magazine communicates a more suburban sensibility in its choices than the more midtown- and downtown-leaning Sactown choices. For example, a soiree-throwing homeowner might be more likely to flaunt his/her socialite muscle to hire The Party Concierge. And similarly, chain restaurants like The Melting Pot represent a different time in Sacramento than the small-plate, Farm-to-Fork ethos ubiquitous today. Likewise, the Sacramento Zoo makes for a lovely day outing for those with small children (see: 25-34 year-olds) and Hot Italian ushered in a different way to serve Italian fare in 2010 than Español, which opened its doors in 1923.
Speaking of food, nibble on these disclaimers gracing the magazines’ restaurant sections:
|SACRAMENTO MAGAZINE||SACTOWN MAGAZINE|
|“Certain establishments that advertise may be guaranteed listings”||“Our Policy: The decision to include or exclude any restaurant is not influenced by advertising.”|
This difference in approach cannot be overlooked, as the disparity in fine print seems to scream inauthenticity on behalf of SacMag and trigger suspicion about what other content might also be shaped by advertisers. Of course, advertising earns money for the magazine, and while Sacramento Magazine is likely a more profitable company, the question remains: “At whose expense?” Are we, as readers, being robbed of honest, inspired reporting for the sake of keeping advertisers happy? Below, some Yelpers weigh in on how they view the two magazines, where advertising features prominently in peoples’ opinions:
|SACRAMENTO MAGAZINE||SACTOWN MAGAZINE|
|“Sure, it doesn’t tell you where the free beer-pong parties are this weekend, and advertises heavily (LOCAL BUSINESS!), but I think Sac Mag is right where it should be. stay classy sac mag” (8/28/12)“Unoriginal, 99.9% ads, crappy photos and art and yawn inducing content…I can’t even use it to line my bird’s cage- he’d be offended.” (3/21/2012)Overall Score: 2.5*||“Best City Magazine ever. The magazine captures the often overlooked aesthetic dynamics of Sacramento in a way that other magazines focusing on simply regurgitated advertisement simply miss.” (2/5/2014)“A half step above Sacramento Magazine. Overall the content is silly. They seem to think that relating Sacramento to the big picture via celebrates, politics and fashion is the way to give the city relevance. Why not just speak of Sacramento and report it in its own unique city?” (12/22/2008)Overall Score: 3.5*|
*Information gathered October 26, 2014; subject to change.
The titles of each magazine’s first piece of content, “From the Editors” in Sactown and “Publisher’s Note” in SacMag, illustrate a seemingly nitpicky difference: editor vs. publisher. However, as defined here, “an editor’s job is to really make a literary work that meets up to the standard of the content” by being an author’s “most critical reader,” while a publisher “does the financial thinking” and “performs multiple tasks so [the] article would sell, be appreciated by the public, and, most importantly, would help [the author] earn from it.” Words matter. One would think that someone running a magazine would know that, and choose accordingly. The title “Publisher’s Note,” while maybe not intentionally distancing, conjures up notions of selling out.
The “Back Story” feature on the back page of Sacramento Magazine, versus the “Why Not Here?” feature on the back page of Sactown Magazine is perhaps most emblematic of the focus of the two. SacMag profiles the work and talent of someone already doing something interesting in Sacramento, and Sactown challenges the status quo of our city to ask why we can’t try something new in the future. Presenting life as it is, and shaking up what it could be — therein lies the difference.
When compared to the days of newspapers and magazines, basic cable, and radio and CDs, this brave new world can be read in one of two ways – either as a freeing, diversified on-demand market that allows us to tune in to exactly what we want (and tune out anything we don’t) or as a move away from the shared experiences of old, a break from the same radar screen.
There’s no telling if, in 50 years time, we’ll be able to look back at our lives now and remember Scotland voting to stay in the UK, or the release of the new album from U2, or the advent of ride-sharing services like Uber. Our access to information is so great that it is as staggering, burdensome, and overwhelming, as it is liberating, empowering, and limitless.
Whether or not ignorance truly is bliss, our world is no longer spoon-fed to us by the likes of Walter Cronkite, our exposure to new music is no longer funneled through the Billboard charts, and our access to information is no longer as protected a commodity as it once was. So, whether you read Sactown Magazine, or Sacramento Magazine, or no magazines at all, you now have both the privilege and the responsibility of curating your own information to inspire you, inform you, and expose you to new ideas. Scout on.
Photos | Wesley Scoville
Stay connected with all things Sacramento and beyond.