A Golden Age of Publishing
17 Mar 2008
Everyone is familiar with the notion that the internet is rapidly taking over, invading every aspect of our lives, drastically changing how we interact with others and define ourselves. We are taunted with the prediction that in the near future our lives will be played out primarily on a cyber platform. But does this dismiss a longing for the physical? And what about our relationship with print culture? Do we not still want to own and covet beautifully created objects that hark back to the so-called “golden age” of publishing?
Well, in a word, “Yes,” opines Jeremy Leslie, renowned art director and co-organiser of recent conference Magazines are dead! Long live the magazine!. “We are currently in one of the most mature phases of magazine publishing in recent history,” he assures the attendees. And he should know, as an author of the seminal magCulture: New Magazine Design and one of the organisers of Colophon , a biennial conference of everything magazine. He is, put simply, an all around magazine fanatic.
St. Bride’s Library, on Fleet Street, played host to the event, a symbolic choice in itself, being the original home of the press. The day began with a look to the past, reminding us of the first magazines that solidified publishing as an actual industry – one that was conscious of itself as art as well as function. And here too, it is worth pausing for a brief round-up of the magazine industry over the last 70 years or so before analysing the onslaught of the internet. In the late 30s and 40s, the leader of the pack was Picture Post, with editorial content driven primarily by the war effort. The 50s saw a post war slump that lasted well into the 1960s. Design and content substantially changed in the late 60s and early 70s with the controversial magazines Rolling Stone, Esquire and the now deceased Queen. These titles’ experimentation with little to no cover lines and striking cover images were the frontrunners in determining editorial design for many decades.
The 80s and 90s saw a more specialist phase emerge with the growth of niche publications within large publishing firms, such as EMAP. Hobby magazines containing information about particular things that readers can actually use began to become very abundant and still are today. Your Cat magazine and Money Wise enjoy such a dedicated subscriber group that their growth continues despite many other more general magazines failing. As smaller publishing groups begin to make headway over larger firms, their success can even be said to parallel that of the internet – people’s interest in “things” is always a given.
And today? Well the “mature phase” of publishing we are currently experiencing has widely been felt in the independent sector. Although this cannot be said of broadsheets, the internet and technology, instead of hindering publications, in this case, has actually had a positive effect on magazines in terms of creative content and publicity. Found magazine arose directly from internet content and began as a website. People submitted their “finds” – anything from pictures to shopping lists – to the website and for the creators the necessary progression was to make the content available in print form. This can also be said of 8 magazine
, originally set up as a website for photographers which organically led to the production of a magazine – publishing something in print form continues to be seen as the most desirable end product.
The web has also seen the translation of its current trends emerging in the independent publishing sector, with the Myspace/Facebook ideal of individualism – sharing your likes and dislikes with other users or “friends” as they are termed. While magazines started the trend with their attempts to get their readers actively involved – readers’ letters and submissions – publications are more than ever about the individual. Magazines have adapted this phenomenon into print form while in more extreme cases they are even named after their creator. Karen, Amelia’s and Carl’s Cars, are a few examples.
Of course one cannot overlook the financial aspects of producing a magazine – the crucial “make or break” in the life span of publications. Lacking more of the big time advertisers, most independent magazines rely on subscriptions and one way to draw in these subscribers is through the web. Not only can viewers easily purchase through the sites but the better ones are also a forum for information and comment – the forever sought after interactivity of the web savvy. Making the most of the medium seems to be the new mantra.
Yet independent magazines still need to exert the extra effort to pull in readers. The one thing that magazines have over the internet is their tangible quality and resourceful editors have completely taken this onboard. The trick is to make magazines more “magazine-y”. Take American magazine Esopus
. They go to great lengths to make each issue a one-off, valuable object by experimenting with printing techniques. Not only in changing paper stock but creating hand-made pop-ups, printing in disappearing ink, or including special inserts and gatefolds. It is now common to see foil blocking or embossed logos on covers – magazines look better than ever because of the readily available experimentations in printing. Yet, these techniques are not cheap. Esopus
benefits from a great deal of sponsorship, being billed as a not-for-profit. Other mags like Wallpaper
* or Fantastic Man
can do so purely because of their advertising revenue. Cash flow will almost always be a deciding factor in the life span of any mag.
The way forward, as it turns out, is really not that complicated at all – a solid relationship with readers through a strong web presence and the production of something tactile and beautiful. Magazines with huge print runs are becoming obsolete. Thousands of issues are pulped, not only damaging their environmental credibility but seriously missing the mark. The future of magazines depends on their being targeting and niche. While the magazine industry is not “dead” their survival depends on them continuing but in a different way.
Magazines are dead! Long live the magazine! made its point all too clear. Giving up on the medium because those large publishing groups run for the hills is not reason enough. Buyers have proved that they do love actual printed magazines. It’s in the hands of the publishers and editors to continue to create desirable objects – something to hail in the new “golden age” of publishing, perhaps a platinum age.
Lauren Heinz, is editor of 8 magazine.