One stormy night last winter fuelled by feasting festivities, I was having a discussion with a fellow editor about the direction of the magazine business. There were lamentations about tighter budgets, less staff and increasing pressure from “platforms.”
Some of the magazines I had known in my youth were either closing entirely their print editions or, so completely altering their editorial focus and tone, as to make them unrecognizable.
Although our conversation focused on traditional print magazines, my fellow editor loved the immediacy of digital (online; mobile; apps; social media) and saw that as a lucrative and indispensable part of her job.
We talked about trends and how neither one of us could predict what the future of the industry could or would be even in the short term. We mused about the fine line between adapting to the current social, cultural and political climate, as every magazine should and must do, and incontrovertibly altering its core message, its brand.
This change, for readers, can feel like abandonment. Navigating that dilemma – adapting to trends while staying loyal to an established editorial and readers’ expectations – is, we concurred, the modern editor’s most pressing challenge.
It was not until a few days later that I began to assess the heart of our conversation. It led to the crystallization of a singular question: what is it that only a magazine can do?
Of course, each of the new platforms can do some things better than a magazine and there are advantages in the new media world unanticipated by magazines. But, surely, there must be something a magazine can do better than all the rest. In the business world, this is sometimes referred to as a unique selling point. So, I set about analyzing my own experience with magazines and what I thought constituted their uniqueness.
A magazine is simply a storehouse. Magazines are a collection of stories. In modern times, a magazine has come to denote a particular combination of text and images that assembled together, create a story. This layout is itself a form of art (as any art director will tell you).
Some of the most compelling assets of magazines are:
Readers trust magazines as if they are old friends. Part of that sense of trust is built on reputation and consistency. Magazines talk to experts. They seek advice from a variety of sources to offer the best guidance.
Unlike a blog or Instagram feed, a magazine is not singular endeavour. It is not the showcasing of one person and their singular narrative. A team puts together the editorial over several months. Many people are involved in the creation of each and every page. In other words, a collection of people create ideas and inspiration in every issue.
- Font and Typeface.
The use of font and typeface as a visual device is unique to magazines. Newspapers do use both as do websites, but their use as artwork, as statement, as visual clue, is distinct to magazines.
Magazines provide a particular way of seeing things. This is also what the best photography does. Although, as a reader, you know the editorial direction, every issue continues to surprise and delight.
Ideas, images, words are reflected upon, curated, cultivated. Due to lead times, magazines are rarely instantly reactionary. Time is a factor for magazines not just in terms of deadlines, and due dates, but also because it allows for further thought and analysis.
Social media is immersive and so are novels but magazines have a particular immersive quality the others do not. Unlike books, imagination is not called for, the images are immediate. Unlike social media, there is very little networking or personal showcasing component to magazines.
There are lots of magazines with lots of different purposes, visions and ideas. Today even their format has changed and they do not even need to be printed on paper anymore. So, what is it only a magazine can do? Every reader must answer that. I can only speak for what they’ve done for me— provide motivating inspiration.
This original editors letter article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.