HITS & MISSES

At times happily escapist,at other times eroding its own bastion of bling,popular culture adapts to the rigours and mirrors the anxieties of a shrinking economy

Published: February 1, 2009 11:23:04 am

At times happily escapist,at other times eroding its own bastion of bling,popular culture adapts to the rigours and mirrors the anxieties of a shrinking economy

For gamers,free is a good price
As people tighten their belts,many have turned to free online games for amusement. While others have seen online ad revenues slide,online gaming sites saw display advertising views spike 29 per cent in November from a year earlier,according to a report by research outfit ComScore. That’s primarily because these sites saw more people coming to play their games. The number of visitors to online gaming sites grew 27 per cent from December 2007 to 86 million,ComScore said. They’re also spending more time on the sites,up 42 per cent per visitor.
“It appears that online,ad-supported gaming is one of the activities that has benefited during this economic downturn,” ComScore analyst Edward Hunter said.

The top free-to-play gaming sites that posted gains in December include:
*WildTangent: up 74 per cent
*EA Online: up 21 per cent
*Yahoo Games—up 20 per cent
*Addicting Games—up 17 per cent
*Disney Games—up 13 per cent
Sadly,with more folks out of work,these sites could see continued growth in the coming months.
_Alex Pham,LATWP

Design magazines: fast folding up
The first one to go was House & Garden. In November 2007,the 106-year-old magazine unexpectedly ceased publication. Soon after,Time Inc.’s In Style Home and Martha Stewart’s Blueprint folded,and late last summer,Hachette Filipacchi Media’s Home shuttered. Since November,three more home design magazines announced their demise: Time Inc.’s Cottage Living,Hearst Magazines’ O at Home and Meredith Corp.’s Country Living.
Times are tough all around,but especially so in the shelter magazine industry. Deborah Burns,senior vice president of the Luxury Design Group,who oversees Metropolitan Home and Elle Decor magazines,said,“There’s a housing crisis,a financial crisis and automotive crisis. All the economic conditions definitely affect this category.”

“In a downturn,the leaders are the ones that survive while the weaker ones fall away quickly,” says Stephen Drucker,editor of House Beautiful magazine. “That’s what’s happening.”A loyal fan base and high circulation don’t necessarily mean survival. The bulk of a magazine’s revenue comes from advertising.
When ad revenue falls,revenue from other sources is typically not enough to sustain a publication. House & Garden,for example,had a circulation of nearly 1 million when it died.Home magazine,whose last issue appeared in October,had a circulation of more than 800,000 last year. But the publication was not geared towards high-income readers,whom advertisers most want to reach. “There are no ads to support the lower and middle markets in the shelter category,” Burns says,“so revenue falls.”
When magazines shut down,readers looking to fill the void can get their home design fix elsewhere. “The Web is very complementary to what we do,” says Burns. “If anything,they’ve advanced magazines. They end up feeding us.”
_Terri Sapienza,LATWP

Films to scare you out of the slump
Gina McIntyre Horror films are dominating the release schedule in 2009. Almost certainly,event movies like Watchmen and Terminator Salvation will outgross their spookier kin,but not a month will go by without at least one film designed to terrify audiences. There’s The Unborn and My Bloody Valentine 3-D,and the psychological thriller The Uninvited,attempting to scare up box-office receipts.

This year Hockey-mask-sporting Jason Voorhees will return to menace teens in the remake of Friday the 13th; newcomer Dennis Iliadis will unveil his version of the horror classic The Last House on the Left; Spider-Man director Sam Raimi returns to the genre that launched his career with Drag Me to Hell. Juno scribe Diablo Cody has penned the horror comedy Jennifer’s Body,Rob Zombie resurrects villain Michael Myers for H2: Halloween 2,the Final Destination franchise is employing 3-D for its latest installment and,in October,Lionsgate’s Saw series is set to return for a sixth go-round. Before the end of the year,Benicio Del Toro will confront his inner monster in The Wolf Man.

If horror films reflect the anxieties of a culture,then it makes perfect sense that so many nefarious characters are emerging from the darkness: the collapse of the housing market,the menacing approach of a potential economic depression and international unrest—they’re the stuff of nightmares.
And yet,sitting in dark theatres watching unspeakable acts on screen,we find release — or at least distraction from the real threats we face.“Horror is the genre that makes you feel something,like comedy makes you laugh,” said Andrew Form,a partner in Michael Bay’s company Platinum Dunes,which produced the new Friday the 13th. “You sit down in the seat and you just know that your hand’s probably going to be over your eyes and you’re going to be waiting for those jumps. For 90 minutes,you’re guaranteed to feel something.”
Which explains why the genre has managed such an enduring presence,even though it rarely earns much in the way of critical acclaim. The genre needs neither A-list actors nor expensive special effects nor marketing budgets to do well. “I think all the studios know that horror sells,” Zombie,44,said,“It’s a genre that never gets any respect or any love,but it’s always a safe bet.”
_Terri Sapienza, LATWP

CDs are Facing the music
Music sales worldwide fell by about 7 per cent last year as another sizable jump in digital sales failed to make up for a deepening decline in the compact disc market,according to John Kennedy,chief executive of the industry’s main international trade group.
Revenue from music sold over the Internet,via mobile phones and in other digital forms,rose by 25 per cent last year,to $3.7 billion,the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said in a report. Digital sales accounted for 20 per cent of the industry’s revenue,up from 15 per cent a year earlier.
Meanwhile,growth in downloads from online music stores like Apple’s iTunes has slowed. That is hastening the music industry’s push to develop new business models for free digital music. Major record labels have joined with cell phone maker Nokia to provide free,unlimited music downloads in Britain. The company has said that it plans to introduce the service in other markets this year. Major music companies—Universal Music Group,Sony Music Entertainment,Warner Music Group and EMI—are also looking to monetise music in other new ways,including a licensing deal with the social network MySpace that generates revenue from advertising.
ERIC PFANNER,NYT

In the lap of luxury,Paris squirms
France is the birthplace of luxury fashion,and here the recession biting the world has the feel of a morality play.
As high-end consumers everywhere have suddenly suppressed their appetite for luxury goods,what was once considered a recession-proof industry has been hit hard. High-end stores in the United States watched in horror as holiday sales tanked,while in Tokyo,Louis Vuitton cancelled plans for what would have been its largest and most glittery store anywhere.When Chanel recently announced the layoff of 200 temporary employees—only slightly more than 1 per cent of its 16,000-member work force—the daily newspaper Le Parisien called the news a bombshell.

But there is also,paradoxically,an underlying satisfaction here that an era of sometimes vulgar high living is over and that a more bedrock French way of life will emerge. Only in France is the recession lauded for posing a crisis in values. A recent issue of Le Figaro magazine featured a 12-page guide to scaled-down living in 2009,with predictions that people will work less and put family first. A French trend expert quoted in the magazine dramatically described the changes as nothing less than “a revolution in values”.

Alain Nemarq,the chairman of Mauboussin,the prestige jewellery firm,noted in an interview that saving the luxury industry should be an important national priority because it employs 200,000 people in France,is part of French heritage,brings prestige to the country and seduces not just the “happy few” but a large swath of the public. He proposed the unthinkable: the entire luxury industry should slash prices. “We need a return to reason,decency,discretion,beauty and creativity—in other words,to true values,” Nemarq said. Mauboussin has led by example. It has sold its one-carat diamond solitaire “Chance of Love” ring for about $14,500 (Rs 7 lakh),roughly a third less than its normal price,and its lower-end 0.15-carat diamond ring was priced at $895,Nemarq said.
“This whole crisis is like a big spring housecleaning—both moral and physical,” Karl Lagerfeld,the designer for Chanel,said. “Bling is over. Red carpets covered with rhinestones is out. I call it ‘the new modesty’.”
_ELAINE SCIOLINO,NYT

In comic book industry,recession is the villain
Comic book publishers and shops are fighting off a deteriorating economy,online piracy,rising costs and changing consumer tastes. Comic book sales were down for most of 2008,even at behemoth publisher Marvel Entertainment Inc. And many small comic stores are closing.
“Because comics are an escape,they’re a little more protected from the economy,” said Jonah Weiland,executive producer of the Web site Comic Book Resources. “But I wouldn’t say they’re recession-proof. Everyone is preparing for a slump.”
For February through November 2008,the number of top comic books sold to US shops was lower than the same period in 2007,according to online research group Comics Chronicles.

At Marvel,sales and earnings were below year-earlier levels in each quarter of 2008,dragged down by higher artist and writer expenses and the rising cost of paper. In November,Marvel Chairman Morton Handel cited the beleaguered economy when he predicted lackluster performance this year.
Some publishers are trimming their release schedules and laying off employees. At the same time,comics are getting more expensive. Marvel has been testing $3.99 (Rs 194) issues,up from $2.99 (Rs 145),managers said,and,at those prices,they fear losing casual customers to video games or movie rentals.

“A comic book now costs more than a gallon of gas—it’s phenomenal,” said David Ryan,43,a graphic novelist from Los Angeles. “There are a lot less fanatic buyers now.”
But Hollywood might be able to inject some magic back into the market,several retailers said. Last year,hit films such as The Dark Knight helped attract casual readers. When the trailer for the movie adaptation of Watchmen debuted in July,DC Comics had to print 900,000 additional copies of the graphic novel. Store managers are hoping the boost continues with upcoming movies such as Wolverine.
Tiffany Hsu,LATWP

Bucking the trend: vanity publishing
Booksellers,hobbled by the economic crisis,are struggling to lure readers. Publishing houses are laying off editors and pinching pennies. Small bookstores are closing.
Meanwhile,there is one segment of the industry that is actually flourishing: Capitalising on the dream of would-be authors to see their work between covers,companies that charge writers and photographers to publish are growing rapidly at a time when many mainstream publishers are losing ground.
Credit for the self-publishing boomlet goes to authors like Jim Bendat,whose book Democracy’s Big Day,a collection of historical vignettes about presidential inaugurations,enjoyed a modest burst in sales in the hoopla surrounding President Barack Obama’s swearing-in.After failing to secure a traditional publishing deal in 2000,Bendat,a public defender in Los Angeles,paid $99 (Rs 4,820) to publish the first edition of his book with iUniverse,a print-on-demand company. He updated the book in 2004 and 2008,and has sold more than 2,500 copies. IUniverse takes a large cut of each sale of the book,currently on Amazon.com for $11.66 (Rs 567).
_MOTOKO RICH

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