For Southern Living Magazine, a New Design for the Times

By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009

For decades, Southern Living magazine has chronicled the hydrangea gardens and wicker-filled porches of Southern life. But in the revamped October issue, editors unveil a more modern take on Southern customs, with tips on organizing busy families and fewer pats of butter in the apple dumplings.

As the number of shelter and lifestyle magazines dwindles in the economic downturn, this publication has been updated to appeal to women with less time and often less money. "Our readers told us they love being Southerners and would not live anywhere else, but they don't have time for all the traditions that their moms had," says Eleanor Griffin, who became Southern Living's editor in chief a year ago. "They said, 'Give me some shortcuts so I don't lose my Southern passport, because there are only 24 hours in the day.' "

The redesigned October issue, which has pumpkin-shaped cakes on the cover and hits newsstands Sept. 29, is not a radical change. Additional features present time-saving and affordable advice on life below the Mason-Dixon line, the geographical border these magazine editors use for defining the South, so Baltimore and Washington are included. A new food column, "Mama's Way or Your Way?," gives ideas for cooking collard greens and pie crusts in a streamlined and often more health-conscious manner. (Hold the lard, please.) "Done in a Day" will highlight use-what-you-have and quick decorating tips.

Griffin says that Southerners tend to make more of their own decorating decisions and that she is adding more coverage of design. "The October issue has a wonderful story on a Chattanooga bungalow that is very, very Southern Living," she says. "A young man starts with family heirlooms but updates them and puts his own touch on them, like using his grandfather's chest with a rug from West Elm." He also took the envelope from an old family letter to a printer and had it blown up and framed.

"It all comes back to keeping it Southern, even though you have different amounts of time in the day to do that," says Griffin, who is from Louisville. "As busy as we Southerners are, we have iPhones and BlackBerrys, but we know how to slow down when we need to and pass down to our children what our mothers passed on to us, like civility and graciousness."

Southern Living, which launched in 1966, has a circulation of 2.8 million, a higher number than House Beautiful and Martha Stewart Living magazines, according to Mediamark Research Inc. Several generations of women have been raised on the magazine, and Griffin compares their loyalty to that of National Geographic subscribers. "You just don't quit it. This magazine becomes ingrained in your way of living. As daughters grow up, their mothers give them subscriptions to it," she says.

Griffin took over Birmingham, Ala.-based Southern Living just as the publishing world was going into a tailspin from an advertising drop-off. Southern Progress Corp., a subsidiary of Time Inc. and parent company of Southern Living, recently closed two magazines: the upscale Southern Accents, which just published its last issue; and Cottage Living, a magazine Griffin once edited, which shuttered in December 2008.

Advertising at Southern Living is down 18 percent for the first nine months of this year, according to Mediaweek, compared with competitors Architectural Digest, down 49 percent, and Metropolitan Home, down 32 percent. Says Griffin, "If you have an iconic magazine with a strong message, you have nothing to worry about."

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