Ring the alarms. Hark the sirens. Doomsday is coming. Yes, the Amazon is burning. And sure, Coronavirus is criss-crossing the globe. But these issues occupy enough space in the news. I wish to cry havoc for a far less important issue; one a bit closer to the heart (and hopefully geographically closer, too, for all our sakes!)
The print magazine, it would seem, is in the throes of death. Over the past eight years, UK sales of the magazine have plummeted 55%. From the sartorial to the celebrity, the figures are slimming (and that’s not a comment on the models!) In 2017, we said goodbye to the music magazine NME. The following year, big-hitters Teen Vogue and Glamour had their plug pulled too. Despite the latter being amongst the UK’s top 10 best-sellers. What that has to say for the rest of the category I leave not to your imagination, dear reader, but to Glamour editor Samantha Barry, who said: “a monthly schedule, for a Glamour audience, doesn’t make sense anymore.”
Interestingly, the move came not amidst a decline in readership. Rather, viewers increased by 12% in the year the magazine ceased printing. And that is the snag: these ‘viewers’ were visiting websites, not news stands. The magazine isn’t dying—it’s digitising. This makes sense once contextualised. Magazines with an older viewership—Woman’s Health, Country Living, The Garden (seriously, The Garden)—are all seeing an increase in sales of their print edition. Contrast these with ‘younger’ titles, Vogue and GQ, and the pieces of the jigsaw begin to fit together. The ‘glamour audience’ Barry referred to read on MacBooks, not magazines; who cultivate finstagram personas, not gardens (@jacasaurusrex, if you were wondering).
And so it is us who are killing the print magazine. But do not be mistaken: this decline has repercussions not just for the sentimental sartorialists like I, who prefer flicking pages than swiping screens: lower revenues from traditional print publishing is forcing magazines to get creative in finding sources of revenue. We are in a crucial ‘innovate or die’ period for the print periodical. On this side of the Atlantic, British GQ are launching an ‘Editor’s Club’ where, for what one can only imagine will be a not-so-modest fee, members can rub shoulders with the who’s who of the fashion world. This, admittedly, is a welcome addition: initiatives like the Editor’s Club are examples of innovation where, rather than lose out, the customer is poised to benefit from increased price competition and lower demand for traditional print. But it is not all good news. It never is.
Adverts are a staple of the magazine. An innocent version of their online counterparts, they don’t know what you’ve just Googled or what’s in your Amazon basket. This blindness offers comfort from the post-privacy digital world. In fact, they offer a respite from this reality, transporting you to shop windows into which you can gawp at the wearables of the wealthy. If nothing else, they have nice pictures which you can cut out and make mood boards with! Cute!
What isn’t cute is when the advert seeps onto the next page. A strange beast like this is growing in the magazine world: an article-advertisement (adverticle?). In one example, under the guise of a ‘Spotlight’ section, fashion magazines feature the founders of current ‘it’ brands. I expect these people are paying for the privilege of their ‘it’ status in the hope that the clothes will , to paraphrase George Michael, make the man.
What the section really should be titled is ‘Finding a million ways to say the same trite nonsense as a carousel of industry clones wait to claim their brand invented sustainability’. That title isn’t quite so succinct as ‘Spotlight’, but I think it gets the point across quite a bit better. We need to be realistic about the dilemma faced by publishers. Faced with the pressure to innovate or die, many magazines are doing the former by choosing the latter for their print edition. Others, it would appear, are taking money for reviews. Really, they would be crazy not to.
The market doesn’t care for sentiment. And nor, apparently, do we. For a lot of magazines, the target audience are people whom, like us, won’t walk seven minutes for a lecture, let alone for a magazine they can access for free from their bedroom. For the love of God, people, get out of bed and go to your lecture. And if you have any appreciation for art and culture, maybe stop by WHSmith on your way and pick up a magazine. We’ll both be better for it.