The Magazine Biz

Magazines and newspapers are cutting staff. Ebook readers grow in popularity and functionality. Environmental concerns begin to outweigh the need to print out such disposable items like magazines and newspapers. There isn't really much of a future for the print industry, is there?

Actually, I think there is. And while I think that the discussion about what newspapers will evolve into is certainly worth having (I personally think that they will come to resemble blogs more and more just as the top blogs will come to resemble newspaper website, blurring the line), I'm not going to get into it now.

Instead I'm going to talk about magazines.

I love reading magazines and I buy them all the time. My preferred publications are normally surfing magazines, but I also buy RADAR if it looks like an interesting issue. Since my roommate subscribes to Toronto Life, I'll often read that (along with Fashion, the magazine that accompanies it). When the mood strikes us, we'll also sometimes pick up Vanity Fair. I've even seen a few copies of GQ lying around my other roommate's room but he doesn't seem to read them when I'm around.

The point is that there is still a market for these. People like the tangible feel of a magazine. "I love magazines," writes Alana Taylor, lamenting the discontinuation of one of her favorite magazines. "I still would like to write for one and I still enjoy buying & reading them and I still love ripping out pictures to create collages on my bedroom wall."

I've heard people remark before that the reason newspapers have failed to adapt to the internet era is similiar to the way the horse and buggy industry failed to adapt to the era of the motorcar and steam train. Rather than seeing themselves in the transportation business, the horse and buggy industry saw themselves as being what was an increasingly unfashionable horse and buggy business. Similarly, newspapers saw themselves as being in the newsaper business (rooted in paper publications), rather than in the news gathering and distribution business.

I think it is interesting that a few people have used similiarly equine analogies to describe the magazine industry. Former Conde Nast editor James Truman likens magazines to horses in that they used to be something that everyone could afford and that were enjoyed and used by the masses and are now increasingly becoming a luxury item. Along the same lines,  Howard Junker, editor of ZYZZYVA apparently compared magazines to ponies in that they don't serve any real purpose but people keep them around because they like to look at them.

Truman thinks that the direction the magazine industry will take is to offer even more luxurious, glossy and otherwise tactile objects of luxury such as those created by fashion icons like Karl Lagerfeld ("a ninja" as Truman refers to him). As a firm believer in the idea that science-fiction often provides a prescient glimpse as to what our future might hold, I think it is worthwhile taking a look at the book Grey by Jon Armstrong. In it, the main character continues to buy magazines despite the fact that he lives in a futuristic, connected world extrapolated a few years down the road from our own.

This model doesn't apply only to fashion magazines - I recently bought a $15 magazine about Metal Gear Solid 4 because it offered such great art and compelling articles. When I lived in Australia, I used to buy a magazine called Monster Children. This skate and surf mag was printed in a unique format (length-wise, so that the spine was on the shorter side) on high-quality paper and always had amazing photos and graphic design. In fact, their team must have had high standards when it came to accepting advertisements because all of them were also beautiful from an art perspective.

The magazines' websites then become promotional material for the actual publications. Pages and pages of advertising might become a thing of the past as companies either create their own publications or work more directly with the writers and editors to see their product or service featured, perhaps going as far as to sponsor certain sections. I'd see no problem with this, as magazines have always been a vehicle for delivering advertisements.

Do you still read magazines? Which direction do you think the industry will go in?

-Parker Mason