I am surrounded by magazines. I subscribe (or have subscribed) to many. My magazine subscriptions over the years have included Print, How, Details, Wired, Men’s Journal, Interview, Instinct, Out, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Runner’s World and Interview. Of those, I only have subscriptions to 8 of those today, 3 that are up to expire soon and that I probably won’t be renewing. I only have plans to get a new subscription to 1 magazine this year, that being Muscle and Fitness. Another on deck, that’s very unlikely for me to get, is Rachel Ray’s Everyday magazine. Why am I trimming down my magazine subscriptions? Is it a change in interests? Yes, since over the past few years I’ve grown more interested in health and fitness than other stuff. Is it the economy? Yes, in part because who has the money to toss at a subscription? But overall, what is it that has me chucking magazines into the grand ole recycling bin in the sky?
It’s the content. You see, I’m amused when I read that the print industry is dying. We read headlines about dozens of magazines shutting down each year, we’re faced with impending doom as technology like the Kindle and iPad absorb (couldn’t resist that pun) paper and render print useless and archaic. I think my attitude, and those of others, are being overlooked. Why are so many people turning from magazines and newspapers? It’s the content, stupid!
I have a system with my magazines. When I sit down to read one, I rip it apart. Literally. There’s an automatic recycle/trash pile composed of useless articles or ads I could care little about after looking at it and then there’s the keep pile. These are stellar articles, great photos, things that I deem valuable and worth keeping. At the end, I do take notice of one stack compared to the other. Unfortunately for most magazines, I’m finding there’s more ‘trash’ that value in the content these days.
Let’s take some of my subscriptions I’m chucking after they expire or have already abandoned:
Out Magazine: I originally subscribed because I liked the design and that it encompassed a wide range of topics within the GLBT community. But, after years of subscribing, the only thing I find myself saving are pretty advertisements that are aimed and targeted at gay men. The articles aren’t anything I can’t Google or go onto some sort of blog or forum to read. Why am I paying for book reviews, recipes for drinks and (again) opinion pieces? Peace out.
Instinct: This was probably my first ever magazine subscription. Similar to Out, I liked that it was a magazine for gay males that was about everything within the community, not just pretty white boys scantily clothed. Nowadays, I find the design to be hard on the eyes and the content not worth the subscription price. Gonna follow my gut instinct on this one and let it go – I’m sure I can find the photo spreads on some other queer site.
Men’s Journal: Duller than a Sen. John Kerry stand-up comedy show. It’s got to go.
Details: I loved the fashion and style tips. I hated the boring content written for straight men. Uh, they are aware that a lot of their readership is gay men as well as straight? Apparently not, but if so, they’re stuck in the closet. Plus, it’s annoying that most of their fashion and style advice isn’t all the practical. I’m sorry, me pay $300 for a jacket or $120 for a shirt when I can buy something that looks similar at Target for $24.99 (if not cheaper on the clearance rack)? Uh uh, this one was ditched years ago.
Print Magazine: Great for graphic designers and those in the art/print industry. But just because it’s a specialty issue doesn’t make the $50+ one year subscription rate any better. I can think of a dozen things I’d rather spend $50 on. A new addition to my Madonna collection, new underwear, a new season of ‘Dallas’ on DVD. Even with buying just 1 or 2 of those things I’d have money left over.
Okay, so, the point you ask? CONTENT. A lot of magazines are missing the mark and producing lame content that no one wants to spend money on. Who wants to pay money to read dull celebrity interviews conducted by other celebrities or Z-list stars when we have PerezHilton.com (I’m talking to you, Interview Magazine!). Or read about style and fashion and about being completely hetero … because ya know, gay men hate style and fashion and wouldn’t dare drop tons of money on looking good (Details, you get the point?).
Every now and then I get asked what would make this or that magazine better. My first answer is always ‘increased utility’. You make the magazine more useful by making it essential in teaching something to it’s audience. When we have the Internet and iPhones and Kindles and such at our fingertips, we really need magazines to step up and make it worth purchasing them again. Don’t give us content that we can just Google or look up on our own. Why? Isn’t that stuff useful you asked? Yes, it is … which is why we’re Googling it and getting it for free!
With the magazines I subscribe to now, each of them are integral to my lifestyle and learning how to maintain something. How teaches and inspires me to be a better graphic designer and artist; Men’s Fitness and Men’s Health teach me all about exercising and how to become a better man; Runner’s World is teaching me how to run better and stay fit. Each of these are useful sources of information, something that I’m continually reaching for and referring back to. The others like Out, Instinct and Men’s Journal just aren’t cutting it because they’re so limited in scope that either they’re all about pictures or just aren’t worth owning period (Men’s Journal … just don’t go there).
It amuses me that some magazines claim to care about their readers and audiences. Well, let me let you in on a secret – often it’s all about advertisers. Magazines will bend over backwards to please their advertisers, change their editorial content and whatever they can to maintain or snag the big client. When it comes to the readers though, many could care less. I know of some magazines that care only about their oldest subscribers. Why? Because when they attempt to sell and snag a new advertiser, the oldest ones have more money and thus are more appealing. So then they have to curb their editorial content as not to make it too ‘young’ because if they do, those older readers will be lost in the shuffle. Slippery slope, isn’t it? There are others who are the exact opposite, playing to their younger readers or niche audience and then finding there’s no way to host mature content because the younger readers will ditch them in a heartbeat, having no sense of loyalty. Oh, politics and money, heh?
The same argument can be made of the music industry, another that’s supposedly dying on on life support. When’s the last time you picked up an album or heard a song that really makes you think ‘Wow, this is a classic!’ You know, like how we listen to ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles or even something “recent” such as ‘Like a Virgin’ by Madonna? I doubt in the distant future when we’re listening to classic 2000s “pop” music that young people are going to be jumping around singing along to “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas orwhatever the heck Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are attempting to sing nowadays.
I don’t believe print is dying. I took a journalism course at UNC-Chapel Hill about how the entire journalism industry is based on ‘Rising Eagles and Settling Doves’ where Professor Donald Shaw suggested that all forms of journalism are set on a course to rise and eventually ‘settle’ but they never really fade out completely. If ‘print’ were dying then we wouldn’t have books, newspapers would completely be extinct by now and in most cases the Internet would have been replaced by something even more advanced considering it’s been around a while. What it means is that yes, everything becomes less popular but in the world of communication and journalism, nothing ever dies. I think what keeps the pulse going is what people within the industry are doing. In terms of magazines, many are either playing it too safe and not taking any chances or are foolishly not expanding their scope to include all of their readers of different social classes, races, ethnicity, genders and sexual orientation.
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