Checking your inbox is the new going out
Humble text-based Email newsletters might seem a million miles away from the catwalks of New York and Milan, the glossy pages of newspaper weekend supplements and entertainment listings magazines such as Time Out. But having already virtually killed off the style magazine, there are now signs that the Internet may now have a similar debilitating effect on listings, shopping and fashion titles.
Urban Junkies, a London-based daily Email newsletter and associated Website, launched in 2003, and has built up a devoted following among its 20,000 subscribers with daily tips on what to see, where to go and what to buy.
While its name would not sound out of place in Chris Morris's Nathan Barley satire, it is much more inclusive than some of the style mags whose readers it has inherited. It hopes to replicate that success in other European cities, starting with Barcelona, and will also shortly launch a mobile phone version and a more traditional online travel guide.
Meanwhile, its highly regarded US equivalent Daily Candy, described as "the ultimate insider's guide to what's hot, new and undiscovered from fashion and style to gadgets and travel", is coming to London in June.
Daily Candy already produces six US city-based editions for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Dallas, plus a national version and one aimed at parents. Featuring the kind of self-consciously trendy, snappy prose and insider's shopping tips associated with Sex and the City, it has already caught the eye of American investors since launching in 2000.
In perhaps the most successful of several similar launches in the US, former AOL chief Bob Pittman invested in Daily Candy through his Pilot Group vehicle last year and it has signed up Kinvara Balfour, the former style editor of the Daily Telegraph's Saturday magazine, as London editor. US analysts believe that it will be the acid test of whether it is really possible to make serious money from Email publishing.
Both Urban Junkies and Daily Candy, while aiming at different audiences, follow a similar model. Eschewing the directory- and listings-based approach of larger sites, the sarcastic bite of Popbitch and Holy Moly! and the community model of the blogging fraternity, they are much closer in spirit to traditional publishers.
Both Dany Levy, the US founder of Daily Candy, and Taryn Ross, the co-founder of Urban Junkies, came from a fashion background, and turned to the Internet after becoming frustrated with the long production schedules of glossy magazines.
"I was working as a fashion PR and was getting pretty frustrated with long lead times; you end up working months ahead and everything seemed to be so late," explains Ross. "So we try and make it really topical - here's something that you should go and see today and here's the link to buy tickets. If you rely on Time Out, by the time you get round to buying tickets, it's sold out."
Inspired by the launch of Daily Candy in New York, she rounded up a team of 10 regular contributors and 25 freelancers who "really know their subject areas", including refugees from style magazines such as Jockey Slut, the Face and Sleaze Nation, which at the time were toppling like dominoes.
The content of Urban Junkies is aimed at a young, mixed audience, says Ross, who will check it first thing in the morning when they get to the office. "It can be anything that comes on to our radar. We're enthusiastic and pointing people in the right direction. We're not reviewing a restaurant, we're saying 'Gordon Ramsay's protege is opening a restaurant here, go and check it out if you want'," she says.
Both Ross and Balfour emphasise the sharp design of their illustrated Emails and the quality and brevity of their editorial, believing that their publications will take on the "trusted friend" status that the best magazines possess.
"Daily Candy tells everyone first; if it's been in a magazine or newspaper then it's too late to go in Candy," says Balfour, who is in New York finalising plans for the launch. "Even when I was on the Telegraph magazine, the lead time was about three weeks. If we hear about something the day before we can get it straight out to people, whether that's fashion, restaurants, culture, art or beauty," she adds.
Both newsletters are free to subscribers and while Urban Junkies is aimed at a mixed audience, Daily Candy is unashamedly female in its focus. Balfour believes that they will co-exist quite happily. But with the low entry costs, it will not be long before the market becomes even more crowded. Dazed & Confused and Vice, two of the last style mags left standing, have recently launched Email services.
Even though both are free, they will have to work hard to maintain their relevance and retain reader loyalty. But Ross believes that the fact that Urban Junkies has built its readership through word of mouth, as Daily Candy did in the US, means it retains an affectionate place in people's inboxes. "There is a limit to how many people want to read. But because we offer 'insider information', as well as highlight the best events, hopefully we are the one that people will continue to open first thing in the morning."
She also makes the point that because Email is intrinsically more personal than a magazine, and offers an audience that cannot be easily reached elsewhere, advertisers are finally coming round to the idea.
"We are completely self-financed, which has been a struggle but is now definitely paying off. Up to a year ago I'd have to explain to advertisers why they needed an online budget. Now, people are coming to us," she says. Brands such as Diesel, which are desperate to reach the kind of young, metropolitan audience that Urban Junkies attracts, are particularly interested, adds Ross.
Despite her cut-glass vowels (and being the Duke of Norfolk's niece), Balfour insists that there is a reverse snobbery to Email publishing that also appeals. "I'm quite sick of seeing pictures of handbags of which there are only four available in the world and which are sold out by the time the magazine goes on sale."
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