Posted by: Jon Fine on January 26, 2007
I’ve gotten a surprising volume of emails and comment about this week’s column—about the future plans of ex-Seventeen editor Atoosa Rubenstein—and since I have more space here than I do in the magazine, I wanted to spin out a few more thoughts about it, and share some more quotes from Atoosa that couldn’t fit in the magazine.
There is something very New York—and specifically very-the-too-tight confines-of New York media—about Atoosa. She’s an uber-insider creation of the sort that can only spring from an outsider’s mindset, and from the way an outsider can sometimes understand a culture better than those who live within it. (Atoosa was born in Iran and emigrated to the U.S. as a young child that didn’t speak a world of English.) And, of course, being an outsider can breed outsized ambition.
“Remember: I am a two-sided serpent. One side is all about helping the girls, and the other is a business person … I want to create something that cuts through all of the clutter, gives leadership to this new audience the way Oprah did for her audience.”
Spending an afternoon running around to appointments with Atoosa means you witness a performance. And make no mistake: Atoosa gives very good performance. I remain uncertain if her notions about her future company are prescient or patently absurd, but I do know it’s impossible to spend time with her, at least in the way I did, and not enjoy her company, and the general spectacle of Atoosa! The Show. (Side note: While I have a lousy track record with predictions and thus won’t lay down any bets on her ultimate success, I would hazard to say that it’s probably dangerous to be standing between Atoosa and what Atoosa wants.) Also, the wackiness of Atoosa is readily apparent—hello Psychic Kitty!—but she has pretty astute observations about what is going on with media right now. Some of this she’ll likely share with retail and media clients as a consultant of sorts, though she repeatedly stresses she didn’t leave magazines to consult.
“This audience [is] injuring every industry it comes into contact with. The audience is 13 to 30, essentially the digital generation. I see what they did to music. I see what they did to magazines … Every industry they hit— banking, real estate, they are going to create a Jet Blue or a CosmoGirl in every one of those categories. They consume information differently.”
This is why Atoosa thinks the next Oprah will be built online, at least at first, and not on TV, and why she thinks she has a good shot of becoming that person. These days, the conceit of a person becoming a lifestyle brand is, of course, wholly familiar. Since 2000 I’ve had people describe this to me from figures both credible (Martha Stewart) and comical (Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, auteur behind the short-lived magazine Gene Simmons Tongue. Which is a magazine I hope you never suffered through, but about which I wrote one of my favorite pieces for my former employer Advertising Age).
It’s also interesting that a media figure whose entire persona was tightly wrapped up in magazines, who insisted in private conversations until very recently that magazines retained a kind of primacy for her young women audience, has decided that, well, young women aren’t that engaged by magazines as a medium anymore.
Sudden thought: The magazine world is skewing more and more female as men read turn to mags less—what happens when this generation of girls grow up?
“In the picture in my head, I thought—I am the really interesting and cool department store salesgirl. But everyone is at Abercrombie, or American Eagle, or the mall. They want to come see me. Their heart was with me, but they would be like … ‘I never read your magazine any more.’”
Hence, it’s time to start something new. (She perceives that she’s getting out of magazines at just the right time.) This something new is a media brand that promises, in part, to be built up from a social networking model. Of course, Atoosa describes the media play in slightly differently terms.
“There’s Big Momma.” (That’s Atoosa.) There’s the sisterhood”—this is the community of women who right now avidly comment on Atoosa’s blogs and, presumably, will eventually network with each other. “There’s [potential Web property she discussed with me on the grounds I do not divulge its details]”—which would be “the freaky brother. And Psychic Kitty. It all comes together as a family.”
“I work hard, you know. You can say my blog’s annoying, you can say I’m ugly, you can say I’ve got hairy arms. But I’m not dumb. I’m not dumb, and I work really hard.”
“I’m all about ‘vive la difference.’”
UPDATE Jan. 29: Check out the very extensive trademark claims for the word ‘Atoosa’ that Big Momma Holdings applied for on January 2. Among them:
IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Sound recordings, audiovisual recordings, DVDs, downloadable sound recordings, downloadable video recordings; downloadable electronic publications, namely books, magazines and newsletters, all of the foregoing featuring information on personal empowerment, success, self esteem, personal relationships, inspiration, fashion, beauty, health, fitness, college and school, and technology; downloadable ring tones, wallpapers, screensavers, graphics and music via a global computer network and wireless devices
IC 025. US 022 039. G & S: Clothing, clothing accessories, headwear and footwear
IC 035. US 100 101 102. G & S: Marketing consulting services for others, namely, assistance with branding strategy and message development, product positioning, naming, pricing and packaging, target audience prioritization and communications planning; business development consulting services; online retail store services
IC 038. US 100 101 104. G & S: Internet services including streaming of audio visual content featuring advice and entertainment on topics of personal empowerment, success, self esteem, personal relationships, inspiration, fashion, beauty, health, fitness, college and school, and technology over a global computer network; providing electronic bulletin boards and virtual chat rooms via text messaging and the internet; mobile media and entertainment services in the nature of electronic transmission of media content
IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Computer services, including providing information via a website featuring information on topics of personal empowerment, success, self-esteem, personal relationships, inspiration, fashion, beauty, health, fitness, college and school, and technology
IC 045. US 100 101. G & S: Personal growth and lifestyle consulting services in the area of parent/child relationships and parenting