Better Homes and Gardens

"For a little homemaker magazine, I suppose it's all right," I blurted out -- oh, so condescendingly -- during a job interview with a Ladies' Home Journal editor. And so I lost my chance for a good entry-level magazine gig, stymied by my recent-college-grad feminism and fatal-error-under-pressure gene.

Many years later, having been in publishing all my work life, I'm wondering how those "little homemaker" mags are doing.

Pretty damned well. Each of them -- from Redbook to the Ladies' Home Journal -- earned more than $100 million in advertising in the first half of the year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

But Better Homes and Gardens, traditionally considered part of this crowd (with definite leanings toward the shelter-book category) stands far above the others. Its advertising dollars for January-June 2007 number $402 million -- more than any other magazine tracked by PIB, except for People.

So what's the secret to BH and G's success?   

For one, its presentation of decorating topics -- the core of the book -- is excellent, marked by clear prose and appealing graphics. BH and G pages feature more floor plans and before-and-after photos than any other shelter mag I've seen -- typical of the pub's straightforward, step-by step approach, which aims to show exactly how a room or garden is put together.

Checking out two recent issues, I saw plenty of gorgeous kitchens, and a chest of drawers I wanted to take home. I picked up a few useful tidbits -- from the name of a particular fall cabbage to plant in my garden to the existence of a thermometer that measures temperature with a swipe across the brow.

But wait, there's more.

BH and G's focus on the practical carries over into its tightly written features on relationships, health and parenting. According to its editor, the mag has been covering such subjects for years. Still, who would think to look to BH and G for an exercise routine -- beyond rearranging furniture? Yet the September issue has a short but comprehensive overview of strength training.

Some of the psychology articles seem a bit simple-minded. Consider "How to be Happy," which counsels readers to "strive for" a relationship where you "light up every time you see him" -- easier said than done.

"Let's Chat" is Kids & The Internet 101, complete with helpful tips from experts on online predators. It's all pretty basic stuff, though a psychologist's quote on Web bullying recalls recent coverage of snarky Web sites: "People will say things through technology that are much worse than they would say in person."

Published in Des Moines, Iowa, BH and G aims solidly at mass-market families. That explains features on tailgating parties and how to build a better green-bean casserole. A story about a garden belonging to two men avoids referring to them as a couple -- the casual "outing" that's become de rigueur in more sophisticated design books.

BH and G also lacks the fun, pop-culture-literate voice of my favorite shelter mag, Domino - and the star-gazing potential of, say, House & Garden, which this month shows us Gwyneth Paltrow's Hamptons beach pad.  So it's not exactly my go-to decorating book.

Still, I'm not immune to BH and  G's homey virtues. And the November issue has a page that spoke specially to me. I'd been second-guessing painting my kitchen a bright yellow-green -- till I read this quote from a homeowner who'd chosen a similar shade: "You can't be in that kitchen and be in a bad mood."  What a relief, having my decision validated in print.

So, who's the little homemaker now?


Published by: Meredith Corporation

Frequency: Monthly

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