The political economy of teen magazines in Romania Raluca Petre, PhD Ovidius University of Constanta Post-doc PN-II-RU-PD-2011-3-0089
Research questions: • Who are the actors, where is agency in the Romanian teen magazines? • Whose agency is it? • What are the conditions of productions of teen magazines as global brands? • Is content becoming increasingly uniform and increasingly irrelevant under the pressure of market maximization? • Are teen magazines mere platforms for advertising? • Is the teen magazine constructing a dependent teen? (from childhood to teen hood, from high imagined agency to low embedded agency) • What is the space of teen autonomy? Are cultural industries contributing to the shaping of an over- conformist new generation?
Hypothesis: • Teen magazines are not for teens, but for market shares. The fact that teen magazines producers are not as much accountable to the content providers or the teen themselves, but to the shareholders and global markets, creates the structural premises for poor content and fragile position of the content providers in the larger economy of the teen magazines.
Conditions of production • At the level of media production, structure can be considered the marketing department, while agency can be exerted at the level of the editorial department. The marketing strategies are firm and brand specific, and they are considered as a whole. • The specific content of each number of a magazine in various markets and different vernaculars depends on the larger marketing strategy but is also influenced by local editorial competence as well as the demands of various teen populations. • It is not that editors are in charge and willing to transmit something to the teen world, but that sells figures need to be accomplished in order for the companies to be efficient and attractive to the investors. One of the persuasive arguments of Varieties of Capitalism (Hall, Soskice, 2001) is that companies in liberal market economies need to show that they have high profits in order to resist on the competitive market. From this point of view, a company is valued by virtue of its current profits and transparent balance sheets. The media companies are no exception to this market demand. • It is in this context that I argue that content becomes of minor importance, as long as solid revenues are reported.
Transformation of work in the creative industries in Romania • The copyright contract has become the standard contractual basis between the content providers for the media and the companies in the last years. • They have replaced the long term work contracts that had been the overwhelming type of labor basis in the communist period
Consequences of the new type of work contracts: • The journalists are not employed by the companies • They become content providers • The content they provide can be used on multiple platforms by the media company but paid only once • It is the duty of the content provider to cover for his/her health, retirement, and unemployment benefits
Content providers are formally on an equal footing with the company, thus: • In case of work conflict, both parts comply with the regulations of the Commercial Law • The content providers are not protected by the Work Code • In case of conflict, both parts have to prove that they did not something wrong • Under the Work Code, the employer has to prove that it did not harm the worker, but not the other way around Thus, a structural fragility of the journalist in the economy of the media they serve for in the context of weak associative professional life and weak unionization.
Conditions of content • The journalists in charge with creative input are very few (3 or 4) at the level of each teen magazine. • Some of the journalists serve for two titles at the same time (for example for Bravo and Bravo Girl). • The study of the sourcing regime shows that hardly any articles from these magazines are signed. • The contribution of the local journalists is scarce, hardly one or two articles per number. The rest of the content represents translations from the mother magazines. • The names and images that are available are of international artists, much more than of domestic ones. It is plausible to state then that Romanian teens are socialized into a globalized imagination of the world, very different from the institutional world of their national polity, and separated even from the world of their parents.
Conditions of reception • Teen magazines are object of individual choice, not of scholastic duty; the youth exerts the agency of buying the product. Moreover, being mass cultural objects especially addressed to them, teenagers place high trust in these editorial products, and most often than not accept the messages and interpretations provided by the teen magazines. • I did not encounter critical readings of the messages, and quite little oppositional ones. The younger the respondents, the less critical they are and the more enthusiastic about their magazines. The older teenagers do take a distance from these products, but by the age of 17 they are usually no longer active users. The oppositional readings are explained to great extent by age. It is not that consumers develop a critical reading in the understanding that Hall (1978) proposed, but that they are no longer interested in the content of teen magazines; the older the more redundant they find the contents of the magazines.
Concluding remarks, whose agency is it? • From the point of view of the teenagers, their magazines are instrumental in their identity formation. • From the point of view of the ones that manage these global brands, the aim is to maximize distribution and the reach of global media products and advertising with minimal costs on the value added, costly, journalistic input. • The actors that mediate between the marketing structure and the end consumers are the editors, the content providers. These actors are directly accountable to the media channel, thus to the marketing structure, and not to the young consumers. The main structural problem of these magazines is that they are not accountable to the content providers or to the teens themselves, as much as they are accountable to the shareholders, investors and the global market in general.