It’s A Great Time For Magazines
It is, for the most part, a challenging time to be a “magazine company”. Circulation at newsstands is down 10% this year, for instance. Time Inc.’s operating income decreased 43% year-over-year during the June quarter, on 9% lower sales.
But it’s actually a great time for magazines — that is, the printed bundles of art and text themselves — and those of us who love to read them.
Perhaps it’s my desire to spend less time on the computer, or that I’ve spent more days traveling this year. But I’m more impressed with the quality and breadth of printed matter than anytime since my Internet addiction replaced my Rolling Stone addiction in the mid-1990s.
The stuff I’ve been reading is all over the map, ranging from Monocle to Japan’s Free & Easy (good photos; can’t read) to Surfer’s Journal (relaxing!) to Smith Journal, an Aussie men’s quarterly I picked up in Vancouver. Gather Journal is a gorgeous, food-themed magazine of photography and recipes that just launched this summer. The Travel Almanac from Berlin is bizarre but interesting.
And some of the best stuff I read isn’t coming from “magazine makers” at all, but companies that make their money elsewhere and do print for fun.
Google actually publishes one of the nicest business books I’ve ever seen, Think Quarterly. Its latest edition — limited to a run of 1,500 in the U.S., and sent mostly to important client-types — includes a built-in board game, smart articles, and high-end illustrations. For example, see “Branding Brazil” by Google Brazil director Fabio Coelho.
With a hefty, textured cover and solid binding, these can’t be cheap to produce. But Google generated a $3 billion profit last quarter, so who’s counting? If a couple of these books impress the right people and help grease a couple of big deals, it might be worth it.
Publishing-for-fun is hardly a new concept, of course. Fashion brands, especially, have long published magazines alongside their collections — think Acne, Opening Ceremony, or even Abercrombie. But it makes sense: Great editors are great editors. I’d still love to read a mens glossy produced by J.Crew boss Mickey Drexler.
This isn’t to suggest that the print magazine industry is going to make a comeback. The revenue and cost structures of digital vs. the old print product are probably just too different to support most publications. (Even hobby-driven Kickstarter successes, like the smart design-essay collection Distance, can be financially challenging.) Change is certain.
But the good news is: In the meantime, there are some great magazines to read.