"The Future of Shelter Media" panel, sponsored by House Beautiful and Apartment Therapy, noted several reasons why home design media will weather the economic downturn. "People perceive shelter magazines as books, they keep them on the coffee table," said House Beautiful Editor in Chief Stephen Drucker.
Moreover, both editorial and ads can provide vital information for consumers, said Mitchell Gold, chairman of furniture company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. Nothing can totally replace the print experience, he says, since consumers are going into stores "with pictures taken out of magazines or information printed from the Web." Or as Drucker noted, in this category, "ads often become content."
Both Drucker and New York magazine's Design Editor Wendy Goodman were cheerleaders for shelter media's traditional role: presenting aspirational lifestyles. "In times like these, people can see a million-dollar room on a page of a magazine, find something that costs $5 in the corner and say, 'My room looks like that room,'" noted Drucker.
"People need optimism and a feeling of change," agreed Goodman. "The basic issue for editors is to invigorate and inspire people." For example, in her current project -- creating a home office -- she admitted: "If I can find the perfect desk and get organized, it will make me feel better about myself."
Panel members said technology is playing a key role in the evolution of the category. Both Drucker and Goodman saw the potential for magazines to be read on a digital Kindle-like device, while Thom Filicia, host of the Style Network's "Dress My Nest," discussed a blended TV-computer where viewers could click and buy products featured on style shows.
Web sites and print magazines should be able to coexist and work together, evolving to become "the perfect complementary experience," said Drucker. "The magazine is the top-down authority," while a network of blogs like Apartment Therapy is a grassroots community.
While aware of the "leaking of ad dollars onto the Internet," Apartment Therapy Media founder Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan said online shelter ads are still in a far-from-perfect state compared to print ads. "How do we get sales from advertisers that want the beautiful page at the front of the book?" he asked. Still, he "wants to get better in that area," and is currently testing some ad formats.
Furniture purveyor Gold may have had the perfect design metaphor in his advice to the media: "Do what you're doing really great, and don't tchotchke it up when the business gets bad."