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I Had the Taste of an Aardvark

Helen Gurley Brown

January 24, 1996 — Magazine Publishers Association


Thank you.

Many of us in this room tonight live in the world of print. I’d like to talk to you about cyberspace. Not unlike Ivana Trump lecturing you about thrift or hearing Michael Fuchs, Frank Biondi and Mikey Schulhof telling you how to navigate office politics. I use a Royal 440 manual typewriter. Nevertheless, cyberspace is BIG! The reason Hearst can buy so many tables tonight is that they invested in Netscape at 4 and a half.

Did you know the Internet had 20 to 30 million users in ’95? Analysts expect 80 million by the end of ’96, 200 million by the year 2000.

The number of web sites went from 10,000 at the end of ’94 to 100,000 by the end of ’95. You know what a web site is. That’s where they do it. The World Wide Web doubles in size every two and a half months, spans 150 nations.

You know what happens on the Internet. Bill Clinton, Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes, Bob Dole and other politicians have an Internet Home Page where you can ask them things. Bob Dole’s is the most advanced.

With Bank of America and Wells Fargo you can do banking.

Minority audiences learn from Net Noir the history of Malcolm X and where to buy African clothing.

The Better Health and Medicine Forum deals with everything from frostbite to the myth of male menopause.

There are sites for golfers, astrologists, paleontologists, surfers . . . real surfers who report the surfing injury of the day and a group with a site that calls itself Stop Microsoft!

You can look for love on the Internet – flirt in hundreds of chat rooms, play poker, scrabble, chess. Warren Buffet never went online until he found you could have bridge games with friends across the country.

Bill Gates predicts we’ll have the wallet PC which will contain keys, money, watch, credit cards, checkbook, notepad, camera, cellular phone, pager, concert tickets. Everything but a blood transfusion and don’t rule that out . . . cyberspace is big!

Okay, does that pretty much mean that media the way we know it soon won’t be the way we know it?

I don’t think so.

When Judy Krantz was having lunch with her agent Mort Janklow after he’d got her a killer deal with Crown and people were coming over to congratulate Mort totally ignoring Judy, she finally said, “Gentlemen, may I remind you that in the beginning was the word?”

But is the printed word going away? Again, I don’t think so.

1,538 daily AM and PM newspapers in the U.S.

49,757 hard and soft-cover book titles published in ’94–nearly a thousand titles a week.

Fifty million copies of John Grisham novels are in print though Danielle Steel puts him away with 215 million. The two of them are probably pretty irritated with Robert Waller . . . The Bridges Of Madison County sold 10 million copies all by itself and was on the New York Times list 165 weeks.

Just as Marshall McLuhan used a book to describe how the printing press was being overtaken by electronic media in the late ’60s, so has the genius who started it all–Bill Gates–turned to print to get his personal message across. His book, The Road Ahead is a New York Times number one best-seller. The estimated 37 million personal computers which will be sold this year will be packed with printed manuals weighing 79,000 tons!! Incidentally, instruction manuals that accompany computers are now a huge user of paper and print. I wish they’d give back some of the paper.

I would submit that revolutions and other political upheavals could never get started in cyberspace. Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Karl Marx’ Communist Manifesto, the Bible are three books that moved the world.

Television uses millions of words, many of them printed so newscasters from four networks, hundreds of local stations and CNN can read them from a teleprompter. One assumes Robert Shapiro and Marcia Clarke made a few notes before speaking so eloquently.

Movies depend on scripts which depend on words which will either bring down the walls as in Batman Forever and Apollo 13 or not even make them quiver as in Waterworld. Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen’s Dreamworks will need millions of words for TV and movie scripts to get back their billion dollar investment in real-estate and an all-digital studio. Ultimately Dreamworks’ success will depend as much on words as digital wizardry. 60 plays hit on and off Broadway last year. Garth Brooks sold 60 million units worldwide, Whitney Houston 80 and a half million. These people weren’t singing their words into cyberspace.

Saving the best for last, 11,153 magazines were published in the U.S. in ’94–the figures aren’t up yet for ’95. I guess it would be tacky to mention that Cosmo is the number six newsstand seller among that group–yes that would be tacky!

Words . . . trillions of them floating around cyberspace but not all of them will ever wind up there.

Like many people here tonight, I fell in love with words early. Not so much with books–my sister Mary was the reader–but I liked to write things. Dear Mary, age 11. The Chicago Worlds Fair is great. There is this woman who runs around in feathers . . . half of them are in the back, half of them in the front . . . you can never see everything because she moves the fans around.

At age 14 – Dear Mr. President – my sister Mary has polio just like you, and I know she would love to hear from you. She’s in Orthopedic Hospital, 2400 South Flower Street, Los Angeles. He wrote her a letter and it is his signature. We checked.

A few years later . . . Dear Mr. Belding . . . my boss at Foote, Cone and Belding. We miss you terribly, they aren’t even going to start the Union Oil presentation ’till you get back. His wife Alice said, “Don, she writes nicely–why don’t you let her write copy?” Are you crazy? She’s a secretary. Later I entered a contest with Glamour Magazine, “Ten Girls With Taste.” I had the taste of an aardvark but I could write a good contest entry and was one of the winners. Where it said what do you want to be when you grow up, I said copywriter – and the personnel director of Conde Nast called Mr. Belding and said he should let me. He finally did.

Later, still in love with words, Sex and the Single Girl which was a best seller and I’m getting tons of letters from young women all over the country who never had anybody to talk to before – no, you don’t have to be married by age twenty-seven, yes, if you’re single and having a sex life, it’s probably better than that of your married friends, etc. I’m trying to answer all the letters and one night David looks at me typing and says, “You know if you had your own magazine, you could answer everybody at one time.” We didn’t know any better so he took our little magazine proposal all over New York. Nobody wanted to start a magazine but Richard Deems, president of Hearst Magazines, said we could try our format on their Cosmopolitan which had been a great magazine but was now losing money. We did. It worked. At age 43, knowing totally nothing about magazines, I got to be an editor. Maybe Conde Nast wishes Mr. Belding hadn’t caved in.

From that time until now Cosmo has been a magazine to communicate to its young reader in words and with a few pictures that she can have a wonderful life if she makes the effort and we’ll help. I’ve had a wonderful life with your help . . . Frank, Gil, Dick, Randy, David (David has written every single Cosmo cover blurb for 31 years!) . . . deepest thanks and thanks to the M.P.A. for this lovely honor.



Copyright 1996 by Helen Gurley Brown. All rights reserved.

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