Two recent posts in Samir Husni’s Mr. Magazine blog are informative, fascinating and unintentionally poignant.
The earlier (18 December, 2008) is an interview with Time magazine Managing Editor Richard Stengel. It mostly discusses Time' s 2008 "Person of the Year" selection and issue. Near the conclusion, Stengel points out that this issue did very well on the newsstand and uses this as a metaphor for the viability of print. He states:
Our election commemorative issue was the largest newsstand seller since 9/11 and, you know, people want some historical object. I think that is one of the signs of health for print because people like things. And that will never go away. Our election commemorative issue was the largest newsstand seller since 9/11 and, you know, people want some historical object. I think that is one of the signs of health for print because people like things. And that will never go away.
This might be considered a case of not seeing the forest because of all the dead trees. But the magazine's power comes from its format of being a storehouse of information and ideas — and not its future status on "Antiques Roadshow." If the common garden-variety, or should we say house and garden variety, magazine survives because of its physical properties, rather than its emotional and intellectual properties, I'd suspect that all was not well.
The second and more recent Husni posting (1 January, 2009) is a deeply felt manifesto. He takes a number of conventional wisdom statements about the current climate for magazines and offers his own, cheerier responses. For example:
You continue to predict the death of print; I will continue to promote the endless innovations possible in print.
Warm, fuzzy and upbeat as his affirmations are, they hardly can be considered the basis for a business model.
After years of refining its approach to marketing, the magazine industry emerged in recent years with a glossy, stylish straitjacket. When the business environment changed, the industry couldn't or wouldn't alter its practices. New cataclysmic forces overran the magazine industry and did not spring from one source. The list is brief: wholesaler consolidation, the collapse of stamp and sweepstakes subscription programs such as Publishers Clearing House, and the World Wide Web’s accelerating growth. In other words, magazine industry saw an erosion of retail sales and distribution patterns, a body blow to subscriptions sales and a two-front (readership and advertising dollars) challenge from a ubiquitous new medium offering information and opinions for free.
And now the great recession. Any of the first three hits was a signal to rethink and change directions.
The recession? it deprives publishers of resources needed if, by some chance, they actually figured out a way to bring their enterprises into the 21st century. Which brings us to why samir Husni’s prescriptions are quaint.
We are seeing a societal trend toward digital media. This trend is confused with the prevalence of the World Wide Web but actually is discrete. The Web role here is not so much as a way to experience content, but as a vehicle for distribution of content.
The developing marketplace wants its media digital and mobile.. In music, this is seen in the move from CD-ROMs to MP3 players. In books it is seen in the move from paper to kindle and Ii-phone. In films the move is from DVDs to set top boxes. In magazines it is seen in the move from print to . . . well . . .nothing yet.
If we understand that the magazine does not have to exist in the form of print to be a magazine, the magazine industry will survive. Otherwise a warm place will be reserved for magazines right next to buggy whips on the “Antiques Roadshow”