Whither magazines?

by kipress

I just remembered this pre-xmas article from ROB (thanks to trolling on Bookninja). The gist of it (as in the New York Times Magazine link Kenton posted the other day) is that magazines are going online. Which we knew. But like anything else online, how are they going to make money at it? To whit:

In a study just released by Mr. Yigit’s company, Solutions Research Group Inc., less than one in five of the Canadians polled said they would pay for magazine content online. Still, magazines have to go digital, or risk losing their relevance. There are 78 per cent more consumer magazine websites in existence now than there were in 2005, according to Magazine Publishers of America. “It’s difficult to find any magazine publisher across North America that would say their print product is the only thing that is really part of their stable,” says Claude Galipeau, senior vice-president of Rogers Digital Media, part of the media group that publishes 70 magazines, including Maclean’s, Chatelaine and Flare. “It’s no longer just the glossy print product à la Anna Wintour.” Rogers won’t disclose the revenue from its magazine websites, which are all free to access, but it’s unlikely online sales account for much, says Edward Atorino, an analyst with Benchmark Co. in New York. Some magazines have succeeded at charging for online content. But at Meredith Corp. for example, which publishes popular U.S. titles Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal, that revenue “pales in comparison to what they get from the magazines,” he says. The industry faces the same question as most print media: Not “Can we go digital?” but “Can we make money doing it?”

Someone in class today–okay, it was Chase–asked the pertinent question, “Why?” Why launch a new magazine at all in this e-age? Heather’s post over on her blog seems to beg the same question, with her admission that she has never purchased a magazine. Even I can only remember buying them, in the last few years anyway, in airports. Because I can’t go online on the plane. I used to buy a lot of magazines a few years ago. Was it Web 2.0 that did this? I also like this bit at the end of the ROB article about the design challenge of putting magazines online:

Magazines are trying to integrate technology, without losing the spirit of what makes them unique – including the heavy emphasis on colour photography and design. “I don’t think any other medium has marshalled the forces of art and design to entice people into the experience and keep them there,” Esquire editor David Granger says. “It’s missing from any other digital experience … There’s something momentous about magazines.”

I’m not sure I’d say momentous, and I’m even less sure that good design is a universal magazine attribute. But it’s true that I would typically look to print, not the web, for standout design. Yes, I know there are exceptions. And now I’m going sleep. After heading over to my favourite magazine, More Intelligent Life. It’s the online arm of the arts-and-culture arm of The Economist. And it’s free.