Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Email from Domino's editor Deborah Needleman

Drew Barrymore in April's issue of Domino. Photo by Stewart Shining. Design by Ruthie Sommers.

A few weeks ago I posted my "Open Letter to Domino," , and a 2nd, related post, which combined have resulted in about 130 comments. Clearly, many of us had the same thoughts about Domino's "green" issue and a lot of people voiced criticism and also suggestions.

Deborah Needleman then contacted me inviting some sort of dialogue. About a week letter, I sent her the email below with a number of questions which I thought represented reader comments as well as my own.

Deborah was kind enough to respond recently, and to let me know that I should feel free to post the response, so I offer to you both of them.

Now - if you're totally tired of the Domino saga, I apologize in advance. I think a few of you basically said, "Get on with it and start posting more home porn!" which I can certainly appreciate. But because I have this weird tick that requires closure on all issues - and because many of you have emailed or posted asking if she had responded, I do owe it to many of you to close the loop.

So, here I hope to close it. Sort of.

Not all questions were answered (at least not yet), as you will see below, so maybe we will simply have to wait and see if/how the direction of the magazine changes. DN seems to think we will like the April issue much more than the March green issue. It's going to feature this year's crop of hot young designers, plus style from Redd, Dunham, and Sommers - - people we tend to get worked up about.


Hi Deborah,

I owed you a response DAYS ago and got swamped with work, so my apologies.

So - first I want to say that as a representative of Conde Nast, I would imagine that it's your job to be somewhat guarded in your responses to me. I understand that, and don't expect too much. But I would like to assure you that I won't post anything you write to me without your consent. That's just not my style.

Second, here are a few things I was wondering, as promised, and if you have time to respond to any, I would certainly love to hear your thoughts:

The day in the life features... lots of Decorno reader comments suggested that this feature is kind of smug, unreal, and frivolous. Did you read the criticism of this day-in-the-life feature in the blog comments? Did that register or do you think the criticism was overheated? I guess I am hoping someone at Domino thought it read as a little smug and over-the-top. But maybe Domino staffers just saw it as playful. Either way, I am interested in your point of view.

Does Domino plan to continue to feature more on beauty and fashion? Do you want to? Do you think the blogger comments about this stem from people truly not wanting to see fashion and beauty mixed with their design/decor features or do you think the resistance is about execution - - that if done in a certain way and with new information, it would be welcome? Is there pressure from Conde Nast to drive more ad revenue in Domino and more coverage of these topics is a way to let those advertisers know they have a home in Domino?

Have you read all the reader comments on those two Decorno posts about Domino, and if so, did you like any? While some, I am sure, were hard to read, were any of them inspiring? If so, I am curious which ones. I guess I am hoping for a silver lining in all of this since when I asked readers for constructive comments, they really went to town, which again confirms how much they love Domino. I loved suggestions like featuring "furniture I inherited" and more "how-to" features (but not in a ghetto HGTV kind of way).

Why doesn't Domino have a letters to the editor page? In some magazines,"letters" pages are poorly edited and self-congratulating, so when I am feeling generous, I try to assume that Domino just doesn't want to pat itself on the back. Other times, it's hard not to read the absence of the letters page as a magazine just not wanting to have a conversation with readers. I am wondering your point of view on this and why Domino chooses not to publish letters.

Lastly (for now), how do you want Domino to evolve? I ask this because a lot of readers posted comments that suggested they wanted more of what they got in the first year of the magazine. Those issues were so fabulous that I can hardly think this is a bad wish to have. But it occurred to me that you might see this as an audience that doesn't want to evolve with you and your editorial direction. And to that end, that's where I wonder, "How much editorial feedback does an editor want?" When you wrote me saying you were "sad," I was thinking "Crap. I do not like to make people feel sad." I also then thought, "sad" is a weird response if you think about the magazine as a product (which it is). If I blogged about my new Saturn with broken
cupholders and the manufacturer read about it, the response wouldn't be sadness. The response would have been more about broken engineering and how quickly it could be fixed.

So... with that in mind, I am wondering above all... how connected do you feel to readers? How do you know what they are thinking? Do you do focus groups and such? Or do you get a lot of letters (despite no letters page)? Do you want influence from your readership, or do you feel like you need to be more directional and take them to new places rather than edit for their tastes? (And do you edit for their tastes?) I imagine this is a tough spot to be in since you created quite a phenomenon, and now you have a small(ish) mutiny of people wanting you to be true to something they experienced a year ago.

Again - you have one hell of a magazine. I can't think of anything else to which I subscribe that I would bother giving this much thought. Thanks for being open to these questions.



This dialogue about domino-as painful as it is-is why the web is so damn great! That we can find out instantly what our readers are thinking about the magazine is brilliant. Of course, we are making this magazine for YOU! As one post said, this thread is like a focus group. It's really better actually, because the thing with a regular focus group is it all depends on the 'screen'. Are the participants just in it for the $75 or whatever it is they get as a fee, and have no real connection to the magazine? You are our readers-design-obsessed, smart, passionate-and demanding!! The reason I've never run a letters to the editor page in the magazine is because of my desire to make every page deliver something useful to our readers-something they can be inspired by or act upon. As we all know, with glossy magazines these pages mostly contain bland compliments and benign criticism. They are for the most part static pages, not able to convey a vibrant debate or a communal rant the way a web dialogue can. So thank you all for your comments-even you super snarky posters!

All my top editors have read these posts-and we have spent the past few weeks thinking about and discussing the issues raised. And we will continue to meet about them in the coming weeks. There is a vibrancy and energy to something when it is new and fresh, and while we still bust our asses every month to create the best magazine we can for you, I think stopping to assess where we've come from, where we've gone, and where we're going, is essential. Much of what you and others have said and written to us resonates. Part of what I love about our staff is that they are super committed to making a great magazine, and really nimble about being able to change and adapt. You have afforded us this information and an opportunity in real time. Again the genius of the web! We can respond while you still love the magazine, as opposed to a year from now when we mysteriously see some drop off in renewals, and shake our heads in wonderment.

The deep connection you all have with the magazine, and the connection we feel with you is truly and absolutely what fuels our workday. This is the beginning of our conversation....


You can print my email to you if you'd like.


Hi Deborah,

Thank you for letting me know, and thanks for your response.

My only hesitation in posting it at the moment is that I asked several other
questions in my email and am wondering if I should wait for additional
response from you?



I don't feel comfortable being any more specific now. But maybe after I make some decisions/changes I will.

Also I think/hope your readers will like april much better. Great decorating stories from miles redd, sharon simonaire, peter dunham, ruthie sommer's design for drew barrymore's cozy office, and our domino 10 list which is our 10 favorite young decorator discoveries.

And I will report back later. Whatever I write to you I assume to be on the record. Thanks. D


Ok, thanks. I will post your response then. Many people have asked about it. Hopefully you can share more sooner, because, well, my blog readers might call you out on not responding to more of their suggestions, etc (they're feisty, no? I love it!)... but if they do, I suppose you can just jump into the comment section and let them know to stay tuned, that any changes will be reflected in the pages of the magazine.

Dunham, Redd, and Sommers are crowd pleasers, so I am sure people will love April. I keep looking for it on the newsstand, somehow magically hoping it will appear sooner than I know it should. Irrational behavior, for sure.

Keep me posted.



Anonymous said...

I just hope the Drew article doesn't include a picture of her boyfriend, the annoying Mac Guy. (shiver of revulsion)

Brilliant Asylum said...

I love that Deborah Needleman has taken the time to respond. Can you get in touch with Anna Wintour this way? Because the ridiculously heavy "Drew Barrymore" edition of Vogue makes me forgiving of any small gripes I had with Domino.

Looking forward to the April Domino. I might actually be able to read this Drew Barrymore feature before my arms give out.

lsaspacey said...

I love the way you have handled this whole thing, the right amount of politeness and praise, yet still holding to your guns. Thank you for doing this. Brava!

To brilliant asylum: It also looks like Drew will actually look like Drew in Domino as opposed to that airbrushed stranger on the cover of Vogue.

not a lady said...

Ditto everything lsaspacey said. Good work, Decorno.

Anonymous said...

Nicely played, Decorno. And, I certainly appreciate DN responding, even if she didn't specifically address the questions (which I guess I can understand, if not whole-heartedly applaud.)

An April issue with Redd, Drew and no omnipresent Gambrel? I like it already...

Anonymous said...

I don't think DN can come out and say, publicly, "Yeah, it's time to send Marian the Glue-Gunner off to the glue factory" or "Truthfully, no one here has actually figured out what Rita Konig is supposed to be good at."

Suzy said...

Fabulous! You go girl!

GiltTrip said...

I am happy to hear that Domino is moving (hopefully) in the direction of home design. I receive a stack of magazines each month (5 arrived just yesterday.) Fashion and beauty are more than covered in mags like Allure, MC, Vogue, etc. I want Dominio to be about my home. A young, hip anything but stuffy design magazine. Let's hope this commentary moves the magazine towards design. I sorely miss H&G because it did such a great job of giving us the quirky homes of celebs and other creative types. (Remember the great issue with Carolyn Murphey chilling out on the cover?) ArchDigest gives me design rules, I am hoping Domino is out there to show the rest of us how to tweak them.
P.S. I'm not sure how insulting anyone's boyfriend helps provide constructive criticism. Perhaps, anonymous would like us to post a photo of her said partner to comment on?

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I hate the Mac Guy too, and I have a Mac.

Decorno said...

I like the Mac guy. I mean, he's not my type and I wouldn't date him, but I love the Apple ads and he's perfect for them.

What movie was he in recently where he was captain sarcasm... some kind of action movie... 16 Blocks? something like that. Very funny. He's kind of a one-note actor, but I like him.

I can't wait to see Drew's office. It doesn't look very "office-y" which is cool.

Melissa H said...

Thank you, Decorno! I'm so glad that DN has responded favorably. I am hopeful in her moving toward our feedback vision. I also hope that even if she doesn't like "letters to the editor," that she create a line of open, direct communication to Domino. I can't wait for April!!

Anonymous said...

Well done! Looking forward to April's issue! I don't mind the Mac Guy really...let's stay on subject shall we?

Anonymous said...

If you're looking to stay on subject, you are soooooooooooo on the wrong blog.

Richie Designs said...

Wow. just so impressed that there is a dialog at all. She's a super smart editor to be tuned into this.

I like Domino even more now.

Anonymous said...

Decorno I think that was a (quite) frank and well-written letter. I don't think DN answered anything, though, besides to say, 'buy our April issue'. I wish she would have answered anything directly; she was like a presidential candidate.

Lisa Wilson (& Alfie!) at The Pickled Hutch said...

Cool to get a response but she kinda, no not kinda, did bail on anything specific. You asked lots and lots of pointed, direct questions. She could have answered at least a few more. I agree that Drew actually looks like Drew in this photo.
Lisa & Alfie

Anonymous said...

I can see DN's point though. Some of the changes she may have in mind for the future could be sensitive (firing people, eliminating or changing parts of the magazine so that staff reductions are necessary, etc.), and she wouldn't want to announce that in a public forum like a blog.

Anonymous said...

You guys also have to remember that everything that goes into the magazine requires an intense amount of work on all angles. As Deborah said, it's going to take time to evaluate all of the comments and tweak things. Not to mention the fact that they might even end up testing things with focus groups. Give them some time to consider your thoughts and comments - changes won't happen over night.

Anonymous said...

Some changes (or non-changes) are probably out of her hands. I'd bet parent company Conde Nast has required her to include a certain number of hair-and-makeup edit pages, whether she likes it or not. Hence the recent hiring of that new makeup columnist. Probably none of the original decor-oriented editors wanted to handle that material.

Anonymous said...

The thing is: It is their magazine. We can scream and yell all we want, but we're not shareholders, and we're not on Conde Nast's board of directors. We can buy it, or we can refuse to buy it. (I guess we could threaten to boycott the advertisers, but that's not very credible.)

We don't, in other words, have a right to have our "demands" met, or even to receive a polite but vague thank-you note.

The best we can do is keep providing feedback, and doing it, as Decorno has done, in a way that is civil, empathetic, and realistic.

Kwana said...

Thanks for updating us, Decorno. Great job. And thanks to Deborah for responding. Power to the people and the blog!

my little apartment said...

the Mac kid was in Die Hard, or Die Harder, or whatever it was called...

i wrinkled my nose at the fact that DN skirted around so many of your questions, but it's rad that she's a)getting back to you and b)okay with being on the record.

yay, Decorno!

Anonymous said...

The Mac Guy is the 21st Century Tom Greene (with both testicles).

Decorno said...

Anon who wrote: "We don't, in other words, have a right to have our "demands" met, or even to receive a polite but vague thank-you note."

You're are so totally right when you say we can either buy it or not buy it, but I am not sure I agree with "we don't... have a right to have our 'demands' met."

I think we do. Domino, while creative, is not art sponsored by a MacAthur grant. It's still a product.

A few design blogs, like BeachBungalow8, quite pointedly remarked how lousy Blueprint was. Maybe they were listening, maybe not. I suspect not.

I think Blueprint was trying so hard to figure out how to be Domino that it didn't have a sense of self to begin with so it never had an audience that was connected enough to the product to speak up and let them know the magazine was not really doing it for them.

And to this end, people aren't asking Domino to become something else; people are asking Domino to return the product to that thing they fell in love when it came out. That's something people have every right to demand. That's like Chanel deciding to discontinue its favorite shade of red, customers saying, "Wha?? Bring it back!" and Chanel sitting back thinking, "You don't have a right to ask for that. Sorry."

A publisher has a right not to listen to demands, certainly, but that would just be bad business.

But fundamentally, you're right. Sales & subscriptions are the think the publisher will "hear" most loudly.

design - 59 said...

Fabulous job Decorno, I"m not sure how long it took you to write that email, I know I would have been obsessing and rewriting it for at least an hour...

And I'm so proud of DN, it says a lot for an editor to take time out of her busy schedule to write an email - even if you and bloggers are the ones that purchase the mag and fuel design and new ideas (not to mention give them free advertising).

I must say as a designer myself, it is a breath of fresh air to read Domino. It's a new take on design, creativity, and individuality. Most design magazines as "gilttrip" stated "give you rules" or they tend to be stuffy and I, doing the job I do, still cannot begin to afford the luxury and style most design magazines show or my clients can afford. Domino provides a design style I see AND can afford, which in turn helps me..not necessarily my job, and makes me a happy client.

Anonymous said...


True, true. But two things to consider:

1. It's unclear whether the unhappy readers on this blog represent the majority of Domino readers, so it's unclear how much "demand" we can exert (in other words, if they keep getting an overall great subscription renewal rate, they don't have to care what gets said on this blog), and

2. Domino has to satisfy not just the buyers of the product, but the advertisers, and it probably makes more money from the advertisers. If the advertisers see that the readers are of a certain income bracket, and are prone to spend that money on certain products, then they buy advertising pages and the magazine is a success, even if a (smart, literate) segment of readers are pissed and unhappy. Unless, of course, readers become SO pissed and unhappy they leave in droves. Though I can't think of an example of a magazine going under due to massive reader defection, I guess it's possible.

But I like Deborah Needleman's letter, even if vague. It sounds like it would genuinely pain her to lose smart, discerning readers, even if it doesn't hurt her bottom line. I hope that's true. The main thing is, you did a beautiful job representing us.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't mind if Drew Barrymore edited Domino.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one out here lamenting the sorry state of Domino.I have every single issue from the beginning, whether bought or subscribed to. Without hesitation,I can say that the "green" issues are godawful and ridiculous.As a Design student, I am not interested in beauty articles in Domino. I buy Vogue for that. I do not like Drew Barrymore nor do I care what she likes. I used to get palpatations when I got my issue of Domino, so excited was I. Homeporn Homeporn a gogo! Now? Whatever. What the hell happened to my favorite magazine? It's at best generic, at worst BORING. If they want to do something on Hollywood, feature the set design on popular TV shows. For example, the set design on "Moonlight" is beyond anything else on TV today. The New York Times has called Mick St. John's (lead character) kitchen the best on TV. I've had hour long discussions on where to get a bookcase like his or what L.A. house does Josef live in? "Moonlight" is an architect/interior designer's wet dream. But I don't want to know what face cream the hero uses. Also, feature normal income people trying to redo their apartments within realistic constraints (time, budget, landlord permission). What are single, childfree fortyish women doing? Are there any hot ethnic influences? Come on, get back to the thrilling Domino of yore. And as for the editor's response: she ought to be a bloody politician. She tap danced around every concern without committing to anything. Pathetic...

Sheryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alkemie said...


Thank you for posting the emails. As you said, it was nice to know what the result of our debate. I love the way you wanted to know whether there would be more specific answers down the road. At the same time, it's nice to know they are paying attention.

Anonymous said...

I am a new subscriber that found Domino late in the game. I have one request before everything folds... where did Deborah Needleman find her classic Billy Baldwin sofa for her house?!?!I've looked everywhere online and I can't find it.