I've never understood why high-falutin' media folks work themselves into such a lather over the continued surge of shopping magazines. Think about it: Shopping and consumption are more a part of the average person's daily routine than bathing. Really, the question should be why there aren't more shopping titles (or, for that matter, bathing how-tos).

I say hip-hip-hooray for shopping magazines, perhaps the only print genre that doesn't demand of its audience functional or even partial literacy. You don't have to be hooked on phonics to be hooked on Lucky and the titles its success has spawned. So with the ol' brain in the shop for its 50,000-mile tune-up, I grabbed a copy of the November SHOP Etc., hoping to glean a bunch of gift ideas for the gals (I mean, gal) in my life without breaking a sweat.

It's an impressive publication. As opposed to their competitive brethren, the minds behind SHOP Etc. have created an organizational framework that makes sense. For each of three shopperrific categories--fashion, home and beauty--the mag presents a fold-out directory (akin to a Bloomingdale's in-store floor plan), a few themed pages of products its editors dig, a brief Q&A with the director of the particular category, and selections from experts in the field.

Too, by limiting the range of products it hawks (er, features) in its editorial, SHOP Etc. avoids the pockets of irrelevance that plague other titles in the category. Yes, a percentage of the audience may want to hear more about, say, HDTV sets, and you know that the mag's ad-sales folk would be keen to extend the red carpet to marketers of such products. But ultimately, the shopping-mag audience wants to "read" about shoes, hats, fluffy underthings, eyeliner, skin balms, candelabras and melon ballers; ever the populists, SHOP Etc. gives the people what they want.

Given the absence of actual stories in the November issue, it's probably best to concentrate on the mag's many neat-o design flourishes. A spread on winter essentials sets boots and down jackets against a backdrop of snow, while an eight-page photo feature dealie on table settings and dinette sets (I think that's what they're called, anyway) makes art out of commonplace household items. A 16-page pullout booklet touting the winners of the mag's shopping awards accommodates an awful lot of material in a teensy space, without shortchanging any of the material. Even the magazine mainstays get a little bit of graphic love: The mercifully brief table of contents sits beneath a mockup of a store marquee, while the masthead boasts Q&A bubbles with three editorial staffers.

Tonally, the November issue goes off its meds in a few places. I question the fashionista "How to Get the Beauty Looks in the Fashion Ads" spread, if only because its Uma-imitatin' hauteur seems a better fit for Vogue. Then there's the quickie Angie Harmon piece, which promises "bargain-hunting secrets" yet features the actress wearing a $7,900 dress and recommending a $630 pair of sandals. Separately, as a Giants fan, I have as big an issue with the characterization of Harmon hubby Jason Sehorn as a "pro football hero" as anything ever written in any publication in the history of media.

But that's neither here nor there. SHOP Etc. does what it's supposed to do and does it both efficiently and elegantly. If only every magazine would aspire to such an ostensibly modest goal.

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