Battle Of The NYC Regional Mags

Consider the New York magazine reader, whose interests are said to range "from the hottest hairstylists to the best neurologists" -- a promotional phrase that conjures up a trend-obsessed shopper looking for a brain surgeon and a hairdresser simultaneously, the latter to groom the stubble on her postoperative skull.

Still, Ms. or Mr. NY's interests aren't all surface. Sure, she requires her fix of stories on the latest celeb scandal, like "Bald Britney" in the March 6 issue. (Hmm, notice a hair deprivation theme here?) But she also wants expertly written, serious, political business and media commentary by name writers like Kurt Andersen, whose excellent analysis of newspapers' Web video strategies graced a recent issue.

Though NY regularly covers topics that go beyond leisure "time out," it also walks the same service, lifestyle and culture beat as Time Out New York -- one reason to compare both pubs. Another? While the mags have different voices -- the wealthy insider trendoid versus the hipster -- their readerships are more similar than you might think. A not-exactly-apples-to-apples comparison of their online media kits (NY's is actually for its Web site), shows that though TONY skews younger, and NY skews richer and more powerful, readers of both are within cab-hailing distance of each other. Certainly, the editorial in TONY includes prohibitive product prices ($985 for a dress in a recent "Designer Spotlight"), just as NY does.

Here's a critical look at some of the elements both mags share. The articles I cite are from an assortment of recent issues.

Creature features:TONY majors in fun, if lightweight, features, presented with appealing graphics and charts. For example, in "Why You're Single," whimsical illustrations and insightful, witty copy transform what's basically a listing of events and venues into useful entertainment for both sexes.

NY, aiming to go deeper, will sometimes strike a rich vein. "How Not To Talk To Your Kids," though nominally about children, intrigued me with its theories about how best to praise kids (and maybe, yourself). Still, because NY has a much bigger editorial feature well to fill, not all the topics are gems -- and frequently, even good stories are too long, padded with extraneous details. A piece on West 27th Street's "Club Row" includes a drawn-out, pointless description of dinner at the house of the mother of Jon B, one of the club owners.

TONY editors often hit the bulls-eye with fresh feature concepts, from its rate-the-New-York-critics section to "The Essential NY" quiz. NY editors don't favor the high-concept piece as much. A refreshing exception: the recent W on the couch cover story, a collection of pundit-penned items (including one written by comic novelist Christopher Buckley, my favorite Republican). In its search for up-to-the-minute trend stories, NY can sometimes go awry, as it does with a piece about how people are marrying earlier in the courtship process - who cares?

Culture vultures: Both mags have serious, literate reviewers for the arts. TONY tend to be more encyclopedic in its choices, covering less mainstream artists. For me (of course, I skew more toward TONY's readership), it's eye-opening to learn about, say, the Sex Workers Art Show, a consciousness-raising cabaret. Still, points go to NY for its "no-frills" book guides that, perhaps superficially but usefully, do a quick measure of a volume's buyability.

You look mahvelous: Graphically, NY has the edge here, with its glossier paper and more upscale ambience, though its good looks are marred occasionally by dumb-concept art (like the gazillions of framed photos of one kid illustrating "How Not To Talk To Your Kids." TONY, meanwhile, has topnotch organizational skills -- tabs, color-keyed for each back-of-the book department, that help you locate everything faster.

Is "The Godfather" Still Playing? Dept.: Those listings of weekly events are why many NYC readers (especially tourists at newsstands) turn to both books. Each excels at pithy reviews of current films and plays, but TONY has listings throughout the book, so it wins on sheer volume -- along with coverage of more offbeat events, like alternate Oscar and Valentine's Day parties. TONY is more inclusive in its categories, too; gay and lesbian entertainment events get their own section.

Bring me food and liquor: Page-wise, TONY owns this category, with more restaurant coverage in most issues (except for NY's several themed issues each year, like the "Cheap Eats.") It also more regularly takes a themed and user-friendly approach, answering reader questions in the Barhop section ("Where can an Aussie expat watch rugby in this town?") Quality-wise, each book's food writing is thoughtful and well done.

It's the exact same feature!: Yep, both NY's "The Look Book" and TONY's "Public Eye" feature a quick chat with a person whose clothes make them stand out on the street. Fun banter in both; more street-wise fashion in TONY.

The one reason I'd keep reading NY even if it sucked (but it doesn't): As a recent convert to crossword puzzles, I'm hooked on NY's version -- challenging, yet with fewer frustratingly obscure clues than the Times. TONY, alas, is puzzle-free.

So who wins the duke-out?

It's pretty much of a draw. NY could use shorter, tighter features, while TONY is sometimes too fluffy and lightweight -- but New York definitely enjoys the best darned regional books of any city.


New York
Published by:New York Magazine Holdings LLC
Frequency: Almost weekly (some combined issues)
Web site

Time Out New York
Published by: Time Out New York Partners
Frequency: 50 issues a year
Web site

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