Magazines in a Mess: What Should Print Media Do?

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up eager to embark on my most treasured weekend past-time- a bowl of granola, a cup of Starbucks, and a stack of glossy magazines. After I skimmed through a couple of weeklies, I reached for one of my many guilty pleasures, People’s Style Watch. I turned through the pages, and came across the number one most annoying magazine pet-peeve of all, the subscription card. The stiff, square contraption that won’t allow for a simple, perforation-free page turn from one fashion trend to the next screamed this in big, bold print: Up to 93% Off the Cover Price.

I stared at, what to me is a pointless use of ink and paper and thought, 93% off ain’t better than free.

Free iswhat you get when you do what I did and borrow the magazine from your Auntie’s coffee table. But free is also what we get when we log on to people.stylewatch.com, and newyorker.com, and rollingstone.com. I could go on and on and on with magazine sites that offer most of their content for free on the web.

In lieu of the magazine industry’s many canceled publications in recent years, including the most recent like Conde Nast’s Domino (slated to print its last issue in March), I suspect that print media is arguably the one industry that has had the hardest time in successfully maneuvering through the digital age.

I adore magazines too much to accept that there is no longer a place for them in our media diets. I would even argue that my weekend ritual of reading print media is not unique, and it may serve as proof that we all still use it in some capacity. But the medium is failing, and few publications seem to have the remedy. I surely don’t have it either, but I’m beginning to think that in order to keep our favorite print editions alive, it might have to come to this. It’s a novel idea, and maybe even a bit archaic, but this may be print media’s last hope: We, the consumers, are going to have to start paying for our favorite content.

We as consumers have become obsessed with free content, and rarely do we settle for anything less. It seems to work well for us, but our obsession with “all things free” may cost us some of our favorite print products.

We’ve seen it all, and nothing else really seems to work. Almost every major magazine has gone through some sort of major redesign in recent years in order to keep up with its digital counterpart. We’ve seen the merger of print and online editorial staffs, and we’ve even seen drastic changes in business operations (according to mediabisto.com, Vibe magazine has switched to a 4-day work week). Yet and still, magazines are still folding, or reducing their frequency and circulation by large numbers.

I think that if publications found a really smart and innovative way to get us to actually pay for what we consume online, then it could possibly create enough profit to keep their print businesses thriving. It’s just a hunch, and as I stare at my stack of borrowed magazines, I have no clue how they are going to do it. But hey, I figure if Steve Jobs found a way to get me off of borrowing music to pay $.99 for a song, then some genius somewhere should be able to find a way to get me to pay for the magazines that I love.