For me, I still get a rush of excitement every time I flip through the glossy pages of my favorite publications. But apparently, less and less people feel the same way.
The headlines from the last couple years in magazine publishing read like a bloodbath. More Magazine, owned by Meredith Corporation, was the first casualty of 2016. 2015 saw the erasure of several high profile titles from your local newsstand. Details closed completely, and many of its staff members were moved over to GQ. Lucky become a digital exclusive and Fitness magazine was blended into Shape to create a super magazine. There are magazines out of print that I could’ve sworn I saw on the newsstand just last week. Titles are shuttering faster than we can scroll through our newsfeeds.
Many industry diehards are quick to point out that magazines are only struggling, not dying off. In fact, there are plenty of people still willing to go to bat for the aging print format. These supporters are quick to place all their hope in the digital ad sales bucket. Brands are even starting to use magazines as content marketing. But the amount of closures and the behind the scenes scrambling tells a different story. For example, Condé Nast cut 55 jobs late last year, and the media giant combined the ad staff of Self and Glamour. Additionally, print ad revenue hit a 6-year low last year.
Yet somehow, In the midst of an industry in peril, GQ has somehow decided to revamp and release its supplement, GQ Style, as a quarterly magazine. Two GQs for the price of two when many imprints can’t sell one. I don’t get it.
Magazines may not be dead yet. After all, it’s still a multi-billion-dollar business. But the industry is surely starting to show its age. And without some swift adjustments, it may soon be on life support.
While many people in the business have been quick to craft a narrative that ignores the inevitable change occurring, some insiders have been more pessimistic in their predictions of the future. In 2014, Vogue contributing fashion editor Lynn Yaeger told Racked that print was on its way out. Magazines would become the stuff of novelty like a ‘typewriter or horse and buggy’.
In the share economy, magazines (much like musicians) can no longer depend on topline sales. They have to look to advertisers, web content, TV networks, and product licensing to stay alive.
Digital is the way to go. And while print magazines may not ever completely die off, the days of kids sneaking away to read their favorite magazines in the treehouse are over. If it’s not on a mobile device, it doesn’t matter. And not just a PDF of the magazine. Something about an exact digital replica of a magazine on a tablet doesn’t translate. There are apps like Texture by Next Issue that allow you access to all the major titles you can dream of for a monthly fee. Think of it as streaming for magazines. But unlike music, many of us don’t return to magazines on a daily basis. We consume songs in an entirely different manner. Because of our repeated use, streaming makes sense. But for mostly one-time use, it’s not as practical. Additionally, most of the magazines featured in the app are simply plain digital versions of the print mags. Reading them on a tablet offers no enhancements or differences. We’re just flipping through with one finger instead of two.
Furthermore, people don’t read content the way magazines intend them to. We don’t want linear stories and information curated by theme. We want access to a wide variety of articles and photos. From there, we can skim around and read what truly interests us. We can curate our own experience. Magazines still exist to tell us what should be important. But this goes against everything the modern economy is about. We don’t want to be told what to like anymore. We can do that on our own. Magazines need to become part of the conversation and stop trying so forcefully to lead it.
It takes more than a digital file of your monthly issue to fully demonstrate an understanding of new media. Only time will tell if the publishing business can rally its survivors and walk bravely in a new direction. But if this year is any indication, even that seems a bit too hopeful.