When news of Bauer’s decision to close Arena broke last week, I read a couple of news stories that failed to mention the magazine’s founder, Nick Logan.
Because Logan has lived in self-imposed exile from the magazine industry for the past decade, this isn’t so surprising. After selling The Face and Arena to EMAP in 1999, Logan seems to have spent his time playing tennis and reading books in his native Essex.
You need to be of a certain age to remember Logan’s titles in their pomp. Happily, Matt Wells of the Guardian is of that age. This week, he got Logan into his studio for a 15-minute interview.
It’s a shame the session wasn’t longer. Although the founder of The Face and Arena hasn’t edited a magazine for a long time, he’s still passionate about them.
To appreciate Logan’s impact, it’s probably necessary to have experienced the sheer dreariness of Britain during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1980, both Tyler Brule and Jefferson Hack were still in primary school. James Brown of Loaded fame was 14. The mass market was monochrome and tabloid. During the interview with Matt Wells, Logan talks about paper stock and repro in this respect:
‘I didn’t see why Tatler, the upper classes, should have glossy paper. I wanted glossy paper for my people. I wanted good colour, I wanted good reproduction. So I wanted all those values and I wanted to get it out next to Vogue or Tatler.”
It’s an interesting quote. Alongside the punkish urge to rebel, there’s also an anticipation of the levelling-up culture of the 1990s.
In this respect, what Logan did for magazines is not dissimilar from what Tony Blair did for the Labour Party. He expanded the middle market, unlocking a new aspirational sensibility.
Logan told aspirational types where to focus their attention. He sought out trends and themes that had yet to hit the mainstream, and he packaged and popularised them.
If this sounds poncy in a Wallpaper-ish way, well, it wasn’t. In dreary 1980s Britain, it felt like liberation.
And it was classless: ‘I always wanted Arena to be read by postmen, mailboys and bankers. It was for anyone. Well, not anybody. But Arena was a sensibility, and that sensibility can be anywhere.”
Today, the mainstream consumer magazine industry is mostly enslaved by PR. Logan describes those bits that aren’t enslaved as little more than ‘vanity publishing”.
By contrast, the man who launched The Face and Arena was always interested in the mass market: ‘in being there on the shelves of WH Smith”.
Interestingly, Logan sounds slightly ambivalent about his self-imposed exile. In turn, this makes me wonder whether he could work his magic in today’s mass market.
It would be harder. As Logan himself suggests, the kind of coverage Arena produced is now ‘everywhere”. Getting ahead of the curve ain’t what it used to be. The latter-day dominance of the PR industry would probably hinder the effort, too.
And then there’s social media. Who needs to be given a list of aspirations when Twitter and Facebook offer more trend-spotting potential than any one human being can handle? Just like Arena-style journalism, the taste for niches is everywhere. The web has brought us The Long Tail, and in doing so, it has given everyone the tools to become a trend-spotter.
You can read the demise of The Face and Arena as evidence of the usual commercial pressures in new markets that become old over time.
But you can also read the demise of these magazines as evidence that the market for a certain kind of didactic journalism has narrowed.
But I reckon there’s still a market for really good curators. If Logan ever did come out of retirement, I’ll be the first in line at WH Smith to buy his new venture.
It would be a pleasure to see him do his stuff again.