The deal seems to be working. Martha Stewart Living is still showing robust sales at the newsstand and subscriptions are still strong. This year, too, readers were treated to two special issues (there were none in 2014) which is a positive sign of financial security. A special edition of Everyday Food magazine was released last spring and a special Halloween issue came out this fall.
The biggest news of 2015, however, must be the sale of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to Sequential Brands Group Inc., which bought Martha's company for $353-million. Many people saw this as a kind of death knell for the company Martha founded in the 1990s and took public in 1997, a relinquishing of control that would have been unheard of for Martha ten years ago. Far from being a fatalistic blow, however, the purchase of MSLO by Sequential ensures its survival. There was growing evidence to suggest that Martha's company would likely not have survived another two or three years had it continued on its path of declining revenue and disappointing performance on the stock market. Martha can now use Sequential's coffers, as well as its vast influence and international reach, to leverage the company and her eponymous merchandising brands to new heights of popularity. While stock in MSLO will be dissolved (it is no longer a publicly-traded company) there is security and comfort for her customers knowing that the Martha Stewart name will continue. Late in 2015, too, Meredith revised its deal with Martha and signed a new 10-year partnership agreement that now assumes the editorial teams for both magazines and their respective websites.
For us, the consumers, this is good news. It ensures new growth for our favourite magazines and alleviates the fears that they will suddenly stop publishing - a genuine fear I personally experienced. There was a time when I felt unsure of Martha Stewart Living's future as a print publication, but those fears have now been put to rest.
Let's look at the year that was in 2015 for Martha Stewart Living...
One exception was the departure of Lucinda Scala-Quinn. She stepped down as the editorial director of food and entertaining to pursue her own opportunities: the development of her "Mad Hungry" brand and a new cookbook on the way this spring. Replacing her is longtime Martha Stewart food editor, Sarah Carey.
There were also no new columns or design changes in its pages. It was a year for the editors to maintain stability with a consistent voice, look and purpose - to stay the course. I did notice quite a heavy focus on American Made content, which I think is wonderful. I love reading about the people behind the homegrown businesses that make American living more interesting and enjoyable. A front-of-book feature about American Made nominees regularly appeared in the magazine and a last-page feature on an American Made business was a staple in each issue. There is still a very heavy reliance on food content, too, which is perhaps Martha's best-selling content area. I am of two minds about this: I like reading about food but not always at the expense of Martha's other core content areas, such as crafting, gardening and decorating.
For voracious collectors, there were few significant specialties to garner in 2015 aside from the special issues mentioned above, but there were a couple of exceptions. The April issue featured two different covers: a newsstand cover (shown at left) and a subscriber cover, at right. The most notable collector's item was the December/January issue, which was the magazine's 25th anniversary issue and a self-described "Collectors Edition". It featured a painting on the cover by artist Will Cotton - the first time the magazine featured a painting on the cover - and is a must-have for anyone who is interested in collecting anniversary issues.
In terms of covers, the magazine produced one of its best and one of its worst covers in 2015. The best was the December/January cover, which was so full of imagination, whimsy and creativity - a truly joyous cover that felt new and exciting to the reader. The worst was the February issue with its rows of greasy-looking croque monsieur (and croque madame) sandwiches. I still have a difficult time looking at this cover. It just doesn't say "Martha" to me. Despite the fact that these sandwiches are actually very delicious and the photograph, on its own, is perfectly fine, the image really did not deserve a starring role on the cover of an issue traditionally devoted to Valentine's Day, which was not even mentioned on the cover, incidentally. Crafters and lovebirds who regularly turn to Martha for some crafting inspiration for the season of love were met instead with a sea of "ooey-gooey cheese." The content was actually very good in this issue (with plenty of Valentine's Day content), but the cover missed the mark. I'm so hopeful that the cover of the February issue for 2016 will be as unlike its 2015 predecessor as possible.
OF STACKED FOOD AND PLATTERS:
There has been a trend in recent years at Martha Stewart Living to use food on most of its covers. I am fully aware that this is a selling feature, since food magazines sell better than any other category of magazine on the stands today, but Living encompasses so much more than this. As a reader, I would love a return to a more balanced array of cover imagery that speaks to the company's vast array of content themes. In addition, I would like to see the magazine move away from imagery that depicts food in rows or stacks or piles, or tossed onto platters to appear rustic and casual. It's been exhausted, as you can see from the images above, which span several years of publication. If food is to be the visual subject matter, plate it beautifully or simplify it to the point of iconography. Make it special. Those are just some suggestions.
What are your thoughts about the year that was at Martha Stewart Living? Any favourite issues, favorite covers, constructive criticisms? I'd love to hear!