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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Saving The Magazine Industry
Friday, July 03, 2009

It’s no secret that magazines have been dropping like flies. The other day Vibe was the latest victim of the print downturn. Many people claim this is happening because digital outlets are taking over. That’s not really the full story, though. Yes, digital outlets are providing an alternative to print, but print isn’t doing much of anything about it. Once the people in charge of the print mags learn that the role of the magazine has changed and start altering their product accordingly people will see that print publications are still an important part of the media world. Today's blog tackles the kind of changes that need to be made in order for magazines to thrive again.

The web owns certain aspects of news and reporting. Any magazine that thinks they can report any kind of breaking news is moronic. What they need to do, instead, is go deeper than simply the breaking news and focus on extended, multi-source, features on why and how specific things are happening. The net has the who, what, when and where, but rarely do they ever dive any deeper than that. This is where print journalism and the act of taking the time to gather facts and get the whole story, is essential.

There’s another reason extended features are where the future of print journalism lies – people don’t want to read pieces that are thousands of words long on their computers. The web is perfect for short form stories and that’s exactly where the vast majority of those blurbs should go. Putting short features in your magazine is a quick way to never sell a copy. Why would anyone buy it if they can read it in its entirety on the newsstand?

When it comes to music journalism, the simplistic solo interview about an artist’s album coming out is dead. The web owns it, even if it doesn’t own it very well. New media PR people are some of the most diligent in the game, but unfortunately this has led to every site basically having the same content up at all times, just done by different people. This is great for the artist, who gets a ton of exposure, but terrible for journalism. There is no exclusivity, there is little originality, and there is no “scoop” since everyone gets the same people for interviews. The print world can capitalize on this by having their artist interviews revolve around more than just what someone is putting out at the moment. If fewer articles read like press releases it would make magazines more relevant. A journalist’s job is not to uncover the obvious, but to dig deeper and find the most interesting story possible to tell. Can this be done on the web? Probably, but as noted earlier, the longer, more in-depth, piece is a much better fit for a print publication.

Something else print publications need to embrace is the concept of “evergreen” features. This is the phrase we use to describe articles that don’t have an expiration date, or if they do it isn’t anytime soon. Having a litany of articles in a publication that all revolve around release dates and what may be hot at the deadline of the mag give it a very limited shelf life and it’s going to look stale only a week or two after it hits newsstands. This staleness leads to people’s perception of the magazine being a negative one. Evergreen articles don’t grow old nearly as quickly, so what you run this month will still be relevant on the very last day before your next issue comes out.

All in all it’s a pretty simple fix. The problem isn’t that people don’t want print media. The problem is that print media doesn’t have a very good understanding of what people want from it. The connection will be made eventually, but it may take a lot of changes at the top of a lot of mags before we actually see it happen.

Side Note – Props to Vapors, who seem to be getting it right… even if they do still owe me money from over a year ago!


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:36 AM  
  • At 10:38 AM, Blogger Ketchums said…

    This is a good post, but you're placing too much emphasis on making the magazine a better product to readers. I've spoken to a few people in the biz who have been involved with these mags, and what I've been told is that it's not a matter of the magazines not selling anymore - it's a matter of advertisers not supporting the product.

    Truth be told, these things you mentioned would definitely make the magazines more enjoyable and more valuable to readers. But with so much emphasis on web sites and TV now - hell, not even TV that much, anymore - big companies simply aren't willing to shell out money for ads in magazines. This is moreso an issue that advertising departments at these magazines will have to tackle than editorial departments there.

    That being said, I like the changes you recomemended.

    SpeechIsMyHammer.com (since you only allow Google replies, lol)

  • At 1:53 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    You're right, advertising dollars are extremely important. I think that those advertisers will come back, though, once magazines right the ship and present the kind of product people want.

    I've always felt that content is king. Hmmm, I wonder why? LOL!

  • At 12:52 PM, Blogger Always Home and Uncool said…

    They need to get behind the hearse I'm driving for the newspaper biz.

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