DANA POINT, California — Print media may be dying, but sex always sells. And the evergreen demand for sex advice, regardless of how useful it is, has helped venerable Cosmopolitan magazine become one of the stalwarts of today’s digital media world.
At the opening session of the Code/Media conference here Wednesday night, Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles shared some of the secrets behind her old-line print magazine’s digital renaissance. Cosmo has embraced digital partners such as Facebook, with whom the magazine publishes Instant Articles, and most notably Snapchat — where Coles sits on the board. And Coles said Snapchat’s light, fun and distinctively teenage sensibilities have proven a perfect fit for Cosmo, which is one of just 15 media companies that are part of Snapchat’s Discover platform, which produces frequently updated, short-form content.
“What works for Cosmo on Snapchat has been ‘light and fun,’” she said. “Funny motivational things work on it.”
But print remains at the core of what Cosmo does. Coles said the magazine’s subscriptions are stable, and it continues to be profitable. “(It makes) a huge amount of money still,” Coles said.
The magazine’s consistently relevant subject matter certainly helps. Courtship has moved from church to the bar to Tinder, but the questions and insecurities are timeless. And while Cosmo is still primarily focused on young women experiencing sex and relationships for the first time — the Snapchat demographic — Coles said she’s tried to make it relevant for more experienced women re-entering the dating world.
“A lot of people who are getting divorced have great anxiety about dating again,” she said. “A lot of anxiety about having sex with new people. We talk about that online and in the magazine.”
But one thing that has changed is the ubiquity of internet pornography, which is something Coles touched on repeatedly during her talk. Being in charge of an outlet that gets letters from plenty of teenage girls on the front line of changes in American sexual practices, Coles believes there ought to be a conversation about the effect of widely available internet porn.
“Thirty percent of the time on the internet is spent on porn,” she said. “I find it very interesting that we’re not having a conversation as a culture about how it’s impacting us.”
Coles said that the sensory overload of virtual reality porn could make things worse, saying it could actually inhibit men from going out and attempting to have real sex. And while Coles is nothing if not sex-positive, she said the unrealistic expectations set by standard-issue internet porn has had a damaging enough effect on Cosmo readers’ sex lives.
“If your default learning experience for sex is looking at [porn streaming website] Pornhub, it radically changes your expectations of what sex is and what sex is going to be and what the opposite sex or the same sex wants from you in the bedroom,” she said. “We get a lot of letters from readers saying, ‘He wants to [ejaculate] on my face and I don’t feel good about it.’”