The future of print: are magazines a dying species?

By Jessica Radcliffe-Brown

 

Since the time Apple placed the first iPad on shelves around the globe in 2010, sceptics have questioned the impending extinction of glossies in a new world dominated by digital innovation. Where would the printed magazine fit into this exciting whirlwind of smart phones, tablets and touch screens with their multitude of apps. Of course, publications have since fiercely defended their craft, but personally I don’t think there’s any need because, however humble, paper is here to stay.

It has proven to be a matter of survival of the fittest, in which editors, and their publications, with a forward-thinking and opportunist state of mind, rule. The digital revolution must be viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat, in order to hold onto and build on existing readership. This way, digitalisation isn’t pitted against print; instead the two platforms work together in harmony, helping each other out. Magazines have started to look at themselves as their own brands, each one with a clear view of who their audience are and what they want. With this information they can use their websites and other digital assets wisely, to complement their printed version. Online fans and followers of any particular magazine are persuaded on a daily basis to convert to the printed copy and sign up to a monthly subscription. In the other direction, glossies are giving more space to plug their exclusive online content, such as video interviews with cover stars or surveys and competitions. This tandem relationship is just one way in which publications are adapting to the times. Branding goes further than just setting up a Twitter account and creating a mobile-friendly version of the magazine; regular live events are vital to entice the public to buy into their world. And since they could already have tens of thousands of online followers, there’s no better way to advertise and market these events than sending out a tweet or a Facebook status. The physical magazine that sits on the newsstand or falls onto your doormat every month – if you were won over and subscribed – is an embodiment of the brand, which all the complementary aspects helped to create.

A part of having a forward-thinking attitude, in order to survive, means learning to recognise and embrace change. Change is often what causes most controversy within a society and one of the hardest things to accept, but failing to do so will inevitably mean getting left behind. If we look back through the history of the magazine, it’s evident that this is the case. Only a few decades ago, a feature was almost entirely made up of words and any images appear just as an afterthought. As society became increasingly visually dependent, features reflected this and magazines have now even started to divide longer stories by putting half the article in the back pages, where it’s only read by those who are especially interested. Is it sad that we rely on visuals, instead of words, to hold our attention? Maybe it’s just part of The Change. Think about it; are you more likely to put down a magazine and remember a beautiful editorial shot or a quote from a story on next season’s outerwear? Nowadays, our lives move so quickly that for a magazine to survive, it must find new and innovative ways to stimulate our ever waning attention span.

The role of print publications is evolving and its place in society is being re-evaluated. Whereas magazines used to have to fight to break a story first, they’ve acknowledged that with the immediacy of online resources and social media, this really isn’t a possibility. They may no longer be the first to say it, but now, they must say it better than anyone else. Each title must connect with their readership through quality writing, strong content and a unique perspective. As long as the audience sense a genuine passion, real knowledge and are spoilt with sensational imagery, they’ll keep reading. Society can, and do, turn very easily to digital sources for the Who, What and When, but it’s the job of the magazines to offer the Why and How. Albert Read, the Deputy Managing Director of Condé Nast, describes the role of monthly publications as somewhere in between books and newspapers, or online. They allow for both depth and efficiency, which Read believes is their secret for survival. And while the role of glossies might be rapidly evolving, their editors are still playing the part they have for years. Their job is to de-clutter and curate material that they deem most relevant and valuable for their readers. And with such an overwhelming overload of, often inaccurate, information found online, this is no easy task. The whole fashion industry is like a funnel; for the mass of stuff that goes in, only a miniscule proportion actually appears on the pages of the magazines. So when you hand over your £3.50 at the newsagent, you’re putting your trust in the editors that they’ve saved you having to de-clutter for yourself, and that what’s left is only the very best.

The advantage of having both print and digital publications working simultaneously is that we can decide which one better suits us, depending on when and where we want the information. We could just have time for a bite-sized snippet of information that we get from a tweet of an editor sitting front row at London Fashion Week or, an afternoon to pour over every editorial and beauty feature in this month’s issue of Vogue. There’s a time and a place for either one, after all, our cupboards will always contain quick, manageable snacks for on the go, as it will all the necessary ingredients for a lazy Sunday Roast. So, although digital platforms give us an immediate quick-fix, they are just another reminder of the reality of every day. Magazines are an opportunity to escape, to dream. They are a pure visual indulgence; more intimate, romantic and exclusive than the web, shared by millions of others. The tactile charm of turning over pages feels as though you’re opening doors into an imaginary world where only beautiful things can exist, and something which can never be recreated behind a glass screen. I have to disagree with the idea suggested recently by The Times that magazines are just dead wood, and argue that they are an ever valuable and respectable form of Slow News.

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