National Geographic’s 125th Birthday Party is on Tumblr (and it’s wild)

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One of the oldest legacies in magazine journalism, National Geographic Magazine, is having it’s 125th anniversary this year. To celebrate, they’re highlighting the driving force behind the magazine: photography. They’re hosting a huge crunchy speaker series in Arizona, their October issue is full of their best photography, and they’re highlighting some of the best work on their website.

And oh yeah – like every 13-year-old girl, they made a Tumblr. And I think it’s one of the smartest things they’ve ever done.

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I know what you’re all thinking about Tumblr, and I want you to throw it out the window. If you’re an adult like me, NatGeoFound is probably the coolest Tumblr feed you’ve ever seen. It’s a daily helping of photography from throughout NatGeo’s history, with every picture dated and captioned. Scrolling down the feed is nothing short of an intense experience.

And as I’ll argue after the photography break, getting on Tumblr fits National Geographic’s strategic plans in a number of beautiful ways. The photos in this post (barring the GIF of Gary Coleman) came from NatGeoFound.  Check out the feed. I know it will be hard, but please come back.

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Photography has long been the cornerstone of National Geographic. They’ve successfully positioned themselves as the leading force in photojournalism, and many a user has been enthralled by their work. The Tumblr feed is mesmerizing.

Another interesting aspect of National Geographic Magazine is their forward-thinking bent. I guess you don’t last 125 years without learning something. Making this Tumblr signals NatGeo’s focus on adapting to the digital future of journalism, something hinted at in this interview with NatGeo Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns. He really showed NatGeo’s digital aspirations in this quote:

“We aim to be the leader in visual factual entertainment. The blurring of the lines between photography and video and between print and digital platforms has created a rich environment for us to experiment with immersive storytelling that amplifies voice and helps people connect more deeply with our coverage across editorial and social platforms.”

So why is this Tumblr a good idea? Let’s explore with a list.

If they want to stay relevant, they need to engage a younger audience. Flip through a NatGeo and you’ll notice almost all the magazines are geared towards an older demographic. The median subscriber age is around 45, according to their own measurements. And I hate to be morbid, but let’s be realistic: these folks are gonna die eventually. Nat Geo Kids is cool and all, but most of those subscriptions are coming from parents who already have their kid hooked on the actual magazine.

Having a Tumblr is a fantastic way to engage an audience that is probably heavily invested in the internet already. Get them hooked on Nat Geo photography now and they’ll be readers for life. Speaking of photography…

Tumblr is a visual platform. It’s driven by images, even if most of these images are sepia-tone shots of vintage crap overlaid with words.

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Case in point. Decidedly not NatGeo.

Still, Tumblr users have an appreciation for photography, and while they may end up slapping some pithy quotes on these photos, Nat Geo has an untapped audience here. Hell, they have an untapped audience all over the internet, because…

Everyone is visually oriented. Videos, GIFs, photos, tweets – the internet is shifting towards a culture of easily digested visual content. And that’s no surprise, considering human beings are visually-oriented creatures. Maybe that’s one factor in National Geographic’s massive success so far.

The best part about this Tumblr is the symbolism. Nat Geo is really following through with their plan to establish a powerful internet presence, which is refreshing. A year ago then-CEO John Fahey hinted at the potential end of a print product, and I couldn’t believe it. Even making this Tumblr is a good step forward for the magazine, and it represents a level of quality and forethought missing from other major publishers. Lets hope the new CEO, former NPR man Gary Knell, is just as innovative.

Take a hint, magazine world. Nat Geo is old as dirt and is still whipping all your butts.

Lady Gaga’s Cleavage and V Magazine

Like many celebrities, Lady Gaga is good at making people talk about her. Unlike many celebrities, she’s good at making people talk about her at the right time. Exhibit A: The R-rated photoshoot she did for V Magazine. Behold the toned-down cover!

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Now, this post could be about Gaga’s impressive weight loss, or how photographers Inez and Vinoodh captured Gaga’s raw intensity, or about how this whole photoshoot was a publicity stunt designed to promote Gaga’s new album, but it’s not about any of that.
It’s about V Magazine and how freaking awesome it looks.

Before I drool over it, some history about V Magazine. It’s an offshoot of Visionaire, a “multi-platform album of fashion and art produced in exclusive numbered limited editions,” whatever the hell that means. V Mag is edited by Stephen Gan and is primarily a women’s fashion magazine, and has only been published since 1999 – yet they continue to book huge celebrities for cover shoots, including Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Miley Cyrus, and our beloved Gaga.

The most compelling part of this magazine isn’t the content – sure, they get some huge interviews – but the majority of the mag is fashion photography. The most interesting part is the design. Each cover is graced with a giant V, which depending on the shoot, can vary in color and opacity.

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It reminds me of GQ’s giant bold abbreviated logo, but the V is different. The shape of the vectors allows the subject to interact with the V, something Inez & Vinoodh obviously took into account. It’s not like other magazine flags, where the editors have to sacrifice the readability of the flag for the cover photo.

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The V is completely visible each time. Look, for example, at this other cover of Lady Gaga:

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Her body shape plays perfectly into the V.
But the shape isn’t the only part about the V that I like. The V itself suggests a feminine body part, something the art editors abuse with each cover, making V Mag a beacon of overt sexuality on the magazine rack. Plus, the magazine is tall, standing above it’s peers. It’s as if someone is holding the magazine and screaming “The women in our magazine have vaginas! And they’re attractive! And this magazine is attractive! Buy it!”

As far as design tactics go, I think this young magazine is doing everything right. If you haven’t picked up a copy of V yet, you should.