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May 15, 2009, 12:15 p.m.

Time Inc. thinks I like bobbleheads: More “customization” from Mine

I’ve written about the experimental Time Inc. magazine Mine before; it’s an attempt to bring some degree of customization to the one-size-fits-all-subscribers magazine business. I just got my second issue, so here’s a quick update of my earlier, skeptical review.

The personalized Lexus ads are still a little creepy, I think. One refers to my “life in Massachusetts” (although a printing error has screwed up the spacing around Massachusetts — the perils of custom printing on this scale) and the need to keep a safe distance between me and “any car on the MassPike.” The next, bizarrely, says:

An available Navigation System with real-time traffic information becomes very important on Free Bobble-Head Day at the baseball game.

“Free Bobble-Head Day”? That’s my specially targeted message?

The inside back cover features the image above, which creepily mentions my work address. That feels like a step too far. Think of it as the uncanny valley of advertising: There’s a point at which customization is too spooky to be enjoyable but not close enough to be effective.

At least the stories are a little fresher this time. (In the last issue, some of the “customized” content was two years old.) I hunted down the articles in this issue — all but one are available free online on various magazines’ web sites — and most were from February and March 2009 issues. The oldest I found was from September 2008.

But, below, you’ll find out my biggest surprise reading this issue.

When I finally got to the back cover, I discovered that I’d accidentally picked up my colleague Zach’s copy of Mine. (Maybe Time Inc. has discovered Zach’s secret bobblehead addiction or something.)

It’s a statement on how uncustomized this customization business is that I didn’t realize this just-for-me mag was actually just-for-Zach until I spotted his name. As I said last time, I admire Time Inc. being willing to try something new, particularly if Lexus is picking up the tab. But this hodgepodge of old articles and creepy ads still isn’t a package I’m sold on.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     May 15, 2009, 12:15 p.m.
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