Mags not dying, just a bit poorly

Magculture linked to a Salon feature arguing that the magazine isn’t doomed, it’s just been badly mishandled. According to the writer (Gabriel Sherman), publishers aggressively launched titles during the “bubble years” (is that we’re calling the last decade now?) to exploit new advertising markets, but without cultivating the standards that build lasting readerships:

a closer look at the types of magazines that have closed reveals a more nuanced and, in many respects, hopeful portrait of the magazine business. According to a list compiled by Advertising Age, titles that have shut down in the past year come from the shelter, technology, travel, luxury, and teen categories. The reason for each category’s challenges are obvious, from a meltdown in the housing sector to teenagers’ wholesale abandonment of print for Facebook and Twitter.

As someone who’s pretty keen for people to carry on buying magazines so that some of the magazines will hopefully pay me to write for them, I don’t feel totally consoled by the suggestion that it’s ‘just’ the teenagers who are deserting the news-stands: if teenagers aren’t buying mags now, then what’s going to make them start in time to replace the older readers who’ll be dying off? And similarly, it’s possible that the tech audience is just out at the front of a movement into reading online, and the recession is masking a much more permanent shift.

Still, the failed mags gibbeted by Advertising Age do seem to have been mostly aimed at conspicuous consumers, and the fact that so many were diffusion titles – jimmying an established brand into a new marketplace – backs up Sherman’s thesis. And obviously, I’d really like this part to be true:

the current downturn can be good for publishers. Magazines still offer an unsurpassed ability to marry literary ambitions with deep reporting, photography, and visual design. In this new media age, people talk about the importance of transforming readers into “communities.” Magazines have never had a community problem. Great magazines have built enduring relationships with their readers that Facebook and Tumblr still aspire to. But in a race to grow their businesses, publishers put advertising first and editorial excellence second.

Magazines still retain emotional capital, and publishers need to remember that they’re not in the advertising-delivery business. If a magazine can speak directly to the reader, advertising dollars will follow. Titles launched to capitalize on a booming market segment will never survive over the long haul.

Paperhouse reads: Karen magazine

This arrived yesterday:

Karen cover

A magazine made out of the ordinary.

I ordered Karen after reading about it on Magculture. The magazine, put together by Karen Lubbock, has a very simple tagline which makes it something very unlike standard lifestyle junk. It’s about Karen – things she cooks, people she meets, stuff she thinks – but in an unassuming and generous way that makes it, more or less, about everything.

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The thing is this financial crisis has hit the middle class that’s why it’s in thew news all the time. Maybe the middle class, will stop worrying about e-numbers now. […] What really matters goes across the board. It goes across class. What is it though? We’ve got to re-find it because everything has been covered over and hidden with s–t for years.

This is the only part of Karen that’s like a manifesto. The rest of the mag enacts it: what really matters is the food you eat, the people you live among, tatoos, mole trapping, found objects, snips of conversation. It’s absorbing and intelligent. The layout is supremely simple and supple: Helvetica, white backgrounds, point-and-shoot photographs combine artfully and and unfussily to make a magazine that’s beautifully consistent and subtly unexpected page-to-page.

Why do people buy unnecessary items?

Karen feels like an essential. Jeremy of Magculture talks about the best magazines being “a world apart, a place to escape to”: Karen is a place you disappear into and return from changed, refreshed, more fond and respectful of everyday life. It’s something really and truly out of the ordinary.