Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Print Avengers

Last night at a fundraising dinner, my tablemates included a number of members of the working press. On my left was the editor of a major city magazine; to my right was the publisher of an upscale regional lifestyle magazine. It didn't take long for the discussion to turn to one of my favorite topics, and it did so at their initiative, without prompting by me.

Both of them were saying exactly what I have been writing for years here and in my digital magazine-about-magazines, Magma: Print magazines need to be high quality to survive, but there's no reason they shouldn't survive.

The editor talked about the importance of having strong editorial content, even if it's just a couple significant pieces every issue that really make one invest time with the magazine.

That goes nicely with my argument that a magazine is a medium with which a reader spends time, reading it on long subway commutes or putting their feet up on their desk or lying on a couch. Make the experience worth it. Publishers and editors who try to make their magazines full of nothing but short, fluffy items that could just as easy be Newser.com articles are missing the point and are shooting themselves in the feet. Those magazines will always be beaten by the internet, the medium that does such things better. Even moreso than with online properties, the greater amount of time one spends using and enjoying a magazine, the higher its value to advertisers, the greater the likelihood the reader will purchase another issue of the magazine or even subscribe, the greater the likelihood the reader will share the magazine with friends and family (or discuss it with online pals).

The publisher at our table noted that her readers really identify with her magazine, and the magazine in turn has been careful not to cheapen the experience. The paper quality and production value of the magazine have remained high, something appreciated by reader and advertiser alike. The editor, likewise, agreed with my contention that magazines should refrain from shrinking their size, as so many do by cutting their trim size ever so slightly ever so continually. His magazine is much larger than 8-1/2" by 11", and as a result its perceived value (not to mention its ability to feature greater designs and layouts) is greater than that of a standard magazine.

Should it surprise anyone that the editor's magazine is the healthiest prospect in his company's print unit, or that the publisher's company is planning to launch two new titles in the next year or so?

Missing from our table was a friend of mine who owns two local publications, both healthy. She strongly believes that quality counts, and she spends the time and money doing investigative reporting, follow-ups on previous stories, and in-depth profiles. Again, am I surprised that her company's prospects are so good that she recently brought in a partner to allow her to ramp up the publications even higher?

None of these three magazine professionals is tech-phobic. In fact, I know two of them have had extensive careers in the high-technology fields. They are, however, able to see value where others are blind to it.

I'm beginning to think of magazine professionals such as these three as the Print Avengers, superheroes of the medium. Their main foe is conventional wisdom that print has no future and no value. Their superpowers are the ability to prove the conventional wisdom incorrect month after month.
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