Does Time Magazine think Americans are stupider than Europeans?

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

time magazine

This is a common criticism of American news magazines: the covers for the American versions are for fluff, while the very same issue sports a hard-hitting, news-y cover for the overseas markets.

But the choice between these covers begs the question: Does Time really think Americans are more interested in coverage of their own stress than another historic rebellion, albeit on the other side of the world?

The truth is slightly more complicated and simultaneously a lot scarier.

The problem is that the American audience for Time is 50/50 male/female, but for the European version it’s 66/34 male/female; and the Asian Time is 80/20. In other words, Time doesn’t think Americans are dumber than Europeans, it thinks American women are dumber than European men.

Which is still not completely accurate. The key demo– the one advertisers are looking at after gender and age– is income and employment. European personal income is $90k and Asian personal income is $190k, but they don’t even list the American audience’s personal income– they merely state the household income of $73k, I’ll let you work out why. And the vast majority (75% and 80%) of European and Asian readers are Professional/Managerial, vs. 30% in the U.S. Time’s covers go where the money tells them to go.

That would be enough for an interesting post, but there is one more thing that needs to be considered: the actual articles (e.g. about anxiety) within the magazine are, for the most part the same, shallow, hopelessly imprecise nonsense that Americans are subjected to/want. In other words, applying the language of stereotypes, the masculine readership of Europe/Asia is the intellectual equivalent of American Kansas housewives.

Which was fun to write, but not completely accurate either. The covers aren’t targeted towards subscribers– they are for the newsstands/bookstores, i.e. impulse buys. That market– which in the U.S. tends to be younger, female, and have more leisure time (read: not working) are drawn to magazines about Anxiety.

Which brings me to the real point of the covers: they aren’t a comment on the readership, they are an object to be commented on.
 

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26 Responses to Does Time Magazine think Americans are stupider than Europeans?

  1. qubitman says:

    The mental gymnastics this website puts me through is exhausting. It’s nontrivial effort figuring out what the fuck you people are saying, or what I’m supposed to focus on.

    If I’m understanding you correctly, what you are saying is that the focus should not be on who reads this, but what these covers mean about the societies as a whole. Looking at it from that perspective, I’d rather be greeted by cartoonish images of characters with anxiety issues than stylish youths wearing respirators in war torn areas, but that’s taking the easy route. Let’s go po-mo.

    First off, this fits in with what TLP wants to be true: That america handles it’s social problems with drugs and branding and that the rest of the world does it though protest-based catharsis(riots, revolutions, etc.) . This claim is backed by dubious sources(namely, TLP), and nobody does the research any more so we have no choice but to take it as true. Is this what is really going on? Is this what is important?

    What does The Times want to be true? That’s what I see. From what TLP has trained me to look at, the answer is that the times wants us to think that america has a concern with it’s anxiety, while the rest of the world is concerned with young people burning down the infrastructure. Going one level deeper this reinforces the idea of “America” and “The Rest of The World”. Either you’re in, or you’re out.

    • thestage says:

      “he times wants us to think that america has a concern with it’s anxiety, while the rest of the world is concerned with young people burning down the infrastructure. “

      which is an interesting juxtaposition, because one would think we’d all be a little more anxious if the rest of the world is slowly burning around us. not that we actually would.

      but no, it’s not about what the magazine wants to be true. the magazine doesn’t at all care what is true outside of the size of its bank account. the post comes down to the line: “That market– which in the U.S. tends to be younger, female, and have more leisure time (read: not working) are drawn to magazines about Anxiety.”

      which is pretty interesting. the people that do nothing are the ones interested in lowering their stress levels. why? pretend for a second that it is true.

      • qubitman says:

        I have to assume because they feel bad about doing nothing, or that they’re doing nothing because they have anxiety problems.

        I think I made a mistake in taking TLP’s last sentence as instructions. I thought when he said the covers were a thing to be commented on that I should comment on it. Was I wrong?

    • operator says:

      If I’m understanding you correctly, what you are saying is that the focus should not be on who reads this, but what these covers mean about the societies as a whole.

      … and that’s exactly not it.

      The mental gymnastics this website puts me through is exhausting. It’s nontrivial effort figuring out what the fuck you people are saying, or what I’m supposed to focus on.

      It seems you must not have been at peak reading comprehension in this case – take a step back and re-read. From the post: “The covers aren’t targeted towards subscribers– they are for the newsstands/bookstores, i.e. impulse buys.”

      … nobody does the research any more …

      Female news stand impulse buy in America versus the Asian or Euro male news stand impulse buy – that was the subject of the research that TIME conducted. TLP appears commenting on how irrelevant the cover is outside that lens.

  2. motard en colere says:

    A few other things I’ve noticed about this non-scandal:

    -even if the covers are different, the content is still the same. So people are getting upset because Time magazine thinks they’re condescending to them by making the cover in America about something trivial, when at the same time, if they’d actually read the magazine and ignored the cover, they’d have nothing to complain about. It’s a rather self-defeating argument.

    -people think that somehow they’re being smart or clever by noticing that the foreign covers are serious and intellectual while the domestic covers are fluff. Who did they think Time was trying to sell a magazine to? Well, them. And they wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t going to sell.

    -as far as I saw, nobody who was complaining about it actually reads the magazine; they just thought they could be clever by pretending to be above the fluff Time was trying to sell them.

  3. JohnJ says:

    I’d be interested in knowing what the percentage of impulse purchases versus subscriptions are for those four regions. I’d be willing to bet that America has a higher rate of impulse purchases. But I wouldn’t bet much.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      Yea I agree.

      Asia has tons and tons of teen crap which is way cuter and more obnoxious than anything rivaling that time magazine cover . The fact time magazine in asia is all serious looking only suggests to me that not many young girls are impulse buying time magazine, probably because they have less of an allowance and are not given as much access to their parents money, and there is a firm divide between the young and the mature in these countries with no inappropriate mixing of content.

  4. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    I love when TLP posts something profoundly misogynistic and it’s just like, accepted and okay.

  5. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    I suspect that the greater wealth of average americans means we have more frivolous/impulse buys in general. It is a ridiculous and misogynistic leap to say “women are stupid” or “young unemployed females are stupid”. The fact that magazines discussing serious content have cartoons with self absorbed content on the cover only means that people in the society where such material is sold have a lot of money to waste on cute useless crap. Girls in general are attracted to buying cute useless crap (and I say this as someone who owns / pathologically purchases way way way too much cute useless crap) but it doesn’t mean girls are stupid for enjoying cute useless crap. In countries where the average citizens have less disposable income to waste on cute useless crap, magazines which feature serious content will not have pictures of fuzzy dogs on them with headlines that say “TEN SUPERFOODS TO DETOX YOUR SKIN” on the front, because this will not increase sales much and probably will decrease them.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      I give operator about 5 minutes before he responds to this post by counting the number of times I used the word “I”.

      • operator says:

        Do you know how hard it is to avoid using reflexive pronouns?

        Have you ever tried?

        Why not?

        Remember, from high enough up everyone down here looks like a little ant… and maybe it wouldn’t hurt to remember that the thing that you see in the mirror and call “yourself” isn’t at all what you really are.

        • qubitman says:

          Personally my favorite part of this kind of conversation that it’s impossible to win and that you’re an obnoxious asshole for participating, regardless of what you say.

          You’re guilty of playing the same game. So am I! You can’t “have” that thing you’re talking about, no matter what you say. It just makes you look like an annoying dick.

          Let me repeat that: You are being an annoying dick.

          Try being less of an asshole when you make future comments. People are willing to listen, communicate with, and forgive people who aren’t acting like assholes. You might actually be able to teach someone something.

          Or you could continue focusing on being the winner. Winners don’t need friends.

          • operator says:

            Wait, there’s some kind of prize or title involved here?

            Thought we were playing just for fun?!

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Operator never seems to find the irony in that he focuses on beating me down, yet I am the arrogant high and mighty haughty narcissist.

            PS, it only took him <1 hr to respond. That's saddoes.

          • operator says:

            … and you actually mean what you’re saying?

            It’s not just for the lulz?

      • Guy Fox says:

        4-5, depending on whether the token at the end counts, ’cause it’s syntactically a different type. :)

        (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone’s not out to get you. They might be out to get you _because_ you’re paranoid.)

  6. AnarchistMiracle says:

    This is great! I’ve seen this story [that Time has different covers] posted three different places and while some of them speculated on differing audiences, not a single one mentioned that Time’s own audience research was so easily accessible.

    In other words, applying the language of stereotypes, the masculine readership of Europe/Asia is the intellectual equivalent of American Kansas housewives.

    Perhaps you underestimate the American Kansas housewife, but this is still the strangest revelation to me. I would like to know more about the Asian man who makes $200k a year and still chooses to read Time of all things.

    It’s also worth pointing out that, in America at least, single copy sales are only 2.5% of Time’s total sales, but the revenue per copy is tenfold that of subscribers, so it does make sense that Time would cater to them. source I could not find data on the other parts of the globe.

    My theory is that in America, Time is competing as a source of entertainment, whereas elsewhere it is competing as a news source. I guess this is because in America we all get our news from the Daily Show.

    • stiffbreeze says:

      High-earning Asians might read Time to learn about what Americans are reading, as it is one of the top 15 circulated rags in the U.S. and the most circulated with a news angle. They may want to know what Americans are being told about certain issues that may affect their 200K salaries.

      Entertainment on the cover works in the U.S. because of circulation-wide shared entertainment industry. But in Europe and Asia each country have their own celebrities; some Bollywood star on the cover in Asia might sell in India but it will bomb in China.

      Good link on the media kit. The top 2 single copy sales issues are a Royal Wedding (Kate + someone) and the death of Osama Bin Laden. The former supports the idea that it is women buying Time at the U.S. newstand. But the latter doesn’t (perhaps its just a special circumstance). Either way, the huge variance in single copy sales confirms the cover’s importance.

      • AnarchistMiracle says:

        That’s a good point about celebrities: you can definitely see this at work in this week’s edition with the three covers being Mitt Romney, Vladimir Putin, and Aung San Suu Kyi. [Link] More generally, the American audience is much more homogenous than the Asian/European audience and consequently Time can target their covers towards much more specific concerns, e.g. anxiety.

        Let’s not forget that the males still represent the majority of the American audience–it’s just not an overwhelming majority as it is in other regions. But since single-copy sales represent such a small portion of the total audience, it is possible their demographic might not be represented by the overall average. And I guess that’s why the ‘suburban housewife in a grocery store checkout’ image seems to fit so well.

        I think both the Royal Wedding and the Bin Laden covers offered current information on very popular topics, and as a result they appealed to people who were interested in current events but not interested in subscribing. This may be Time’s real target audience, since after all they make more money from a once-a-month single copy buyer versus a weekly subscriber.

  7. Guy Fox says:

    Hold the po-mo, let’s get psycho-socio-analytic.
    This criticism of Time seems to be an internet phenomenon, but the Yahoo! page reporting on the controversy says that Time is going to ‘address the question’ in the Letters section of the print edition. Question 1: Why broadcast to all readers the reply to a criticism emanating from a boutique interest group? Why shift from digital to print media?
    Answer: Time wants the issue to be raised, they are glad it was, because it gave the opportunity to deliver this reply:
    “Observers at ShortFormBlog analyzed a year’s worth of our covers and concluded each edition gets the same amount of hard news, give or take an issue or two. We’re glad to be held to high expectations, especially when the bar is set by one of our own editions.”
    Notice: Time doesn’t actually explain *why* they run different covers, just that the covers don’t matter because the actual content is basically the same, as tested by some media-watching bloggers.
    Question 2: How does this answer get processed by self-regarding consumers (and remember it’s being printed, not appearing in the medium where the critique emerged)?
    Answer: It’s okay if *I* read Time, ’cause it’s full of top-drawer, first-rate, blue-ribbon reporting, just like the Europeans get. Time doesn’t change the covers for smart people like *me*, they do it because of all the other moron liberals/conservatives/godless atheists/religious fundamentalists *I’m* stuck sharing a country with. Since *I* read it for the content, and they read it ’cause they’re being manipulated, *I* must be extra-special.
    In other words, the real point of the covers: they aren’t a comment on the readership, they are an object to be commented on. Ah! Now I get it.
    [If you want a right proper headf*#k, go a level more meta-, i.e. not the level of debating whether the covers mean Time demeans Americans, but at the level of deconstructing that discourse. *looks awkwardly around the room, stares into rapidly emptying glass*]

    @qubitman: I’m with you on the mental gymnastics, and yet here we are. If it wasn’t worthwhile, we probably wouldn’t be. Try discussing this sort of thing with the drone in the next cubicle.

    • qubitman says:

      You can’t talk about shit like this in real life. Most people have the good sense not to bother with this trash. There is something wrong with you if you’re here.

      Should we even discuss the covers as a thing? Is there new insight to be found there? It seems like we’ve already established that:

      1. The times is motivated by profit above all else and designs their covers accordingly.

      2. The principle of any publicity is good publicity means that this piece of discourse is good news for their bottom line.

      3. Any further discussion of it, or what it says about America or the world, is playing a game you will always lose.

      • Guy Fox says:

        Gee, I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone when they’ve started beating a dead discourse. Someone might still be able to juice it for something.

        But if you’re reading, Pastabagel, “There is something wrong with you if you’re here.” might just be the tagline of your dreams. Credit: qubitman.

        And FWIW, you’re right. Most people are bothering with proper, worthwhile trash, like Angry Birds and musicals starring teenagers. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, as my pappy used to say.

  8. claudius says:

    Alone, you really are ragging on women in this post. How about the obvious: Men are more violent than women in general so they’re more likely to buy a magazine with the last three covers.

    A lot of people are sharing that photo on facebook, and the general sentiment is that it’s because they believe that the American media are cowards and incapable of backing OWS, The Tea Party, etc.

    This isn’t so hard to believe – after all, Time gave “Person of the Year” to Zucks, not Julian Assange, even though Julian Assange had nearly 20x more votes than Zucks.

  9. Madison says:

    I myself find it interesting that anxiety/depression issues are so often represented with cartoonish images of dark hovering clouds, holes in a ground (Cymbalta), or sad blobs (Prozac ads).
    I do not see people with fibromyalgia being portrayed in a Family Circle/Garfield manner.

    More on the topic: one cover is telling the readers “Anxiety is good for you” which suggest that the US audience of BASELESSLY try to take steps to avoid anxiety. Furthermore, Time reasoning goes “Other nations CAN handle anxiety so they CAN face with an image that WILL cause some discomfort to the middle/upper class in those regions”.
    The solution is two covers: one about being open to the inconvenient truths of the world. And the cover following would show .

    Perhaps US audience is considered more individualistic so the content should promise answers to personal questions (How are You dealing with anxiety/How is YOUR portfolio doing?). Cultures that are more communal can be presented with a more eagle eye view of issues.

    Final point: Only upon coming to the US, have I learned a phrase/argument “If you are not a part of solution, you are a part of the problem”. MOST US publications would describe an issue AND immediately suggest steps that can be taken to improve/lessen/increase etc.

    The international cover does not claim to have answers to the global issues or a checkup list on how to deal with the problems. “Learn to live with a discomfort and uncertainty’ is what international audiences know and the kind of message they expect from their news media.

  10. Minerva says:

    In other words, applying the language of stereotypes, the masculine readership of Europe/Asia is the intellectual equivalent of American Kansas housewives.

    Bingo! Also applies to any other “serious” “intellectual” seeming paper & magazine. Too much opinion for my taste. Just the facts, ma’m. Wasn’t facts what journalism was supposed to be about?

    Oh wait, what about the ads which finance the whole thing…

  11. Pastabagel says:

    While I agree with the post, another way to see is this that Time engages American readers differently then they engage readers in the rest of the world, all of whom Time engages in the exact same way. The reason for this is that the readers of time in the rest of the world consists mostly of US expats and frequent business travelers, or “third-culture-kids” with one of those cultures being American. They are less likely to be engaged by domestic (i.e. local) US stories or human interest stories.

    This doesn’t mean that they are smarter/better. TLP points out that the social/medical stories are shallow and superficial. So are the ones about politics and economics. Anyone who is old enough to drive and reading Time for geopolitical coverage is not all that interested in geopolitics.

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