Magazines Are Toast

They keep going out of business.

I resubscribed to “Automobile,” then it went under and they gave me a free subscription to “Motor Trend”‘s website, that’d be like “Rolling Stone” going under and then getting a free subscription to “Hit Parader,” WHO CARES?

But the two automobile magazines were owned by the same company. “Time” isn’t even owned by “Time” anymore, ditto “Sports Illustrated.”

I’m a magazine freak, I have more subscriptions than anybody I know. But not only do magazines keep biting the dust, like “National Geographic Traveler,” they’re reducing frequency. “Sound & Vision”…who knows how often it comes out anymore. “Ski,” same deal. They all keep reducing the number of issues you get per year. “Entertainment Weekly” is now monthly, I kid you not.

So, I certainly am not re-upping my subscription to anything other than “The New Yorker,” which will survive. As for “Vanity Fair”? There’s nothing in it anymore, the new editor has totally missed the mark, and she’s had the gig for over a year. As for Graydon Carter’s “Air Mail,” you want me to pay how much to read online?

And speaking of reading online, I finally bought into Apple News+. I didn’t previously because I get all the magazines in their physical iteration, and it’s much easier to read paper than on my iPhone (or iPad). It’d be one thing if these magazines were customized for online, but…you read ’em and you’re reminded how they were not that good to begin with. Used to be writing was scarce, now we’re inundated with so many links we don’t even want to click through. That’s the dirty little secret, you can send your links, but no one’s gonna click through, unless you’ve established credibility, which is damn hard to establish. And, once again, just because YOU’RE interested, that does not mean I will be interested, or your friend will be interested. Recommending is an art. That few are skilled in. But it gets no respect, because it doesn’t pay well, and if it’s not extremely lucrative, the best and the brightest don’t go into it.

So I signed up for AppleNews+ because to renew “New York” magazine would be seventy bucks a year, and AppleNews+ only a hundred and twenty. And a couple of years back “New York” switched from weekly to biweekly. And “Rolling Stone” is now monthly. Is anything monthly even relevant anymore, in a world where what happened this morning is already old news tonight?

So, I finally decided I wasn’t gonna pay for “New York,” I got it for Frank Rich and the occasional insightful article. That’s another thing about me, I don’t need to read a magazine from cover to cover, if I get a few good articles, I’m satiated. Then again, magazine subscriptions used to be cheap, before advertising went to the web, now they’re a serious commitment, and most people don’t want to make that commitment, and honestly, most of the magazines are not worth it.

So, Covid-19 is gonna kill the magazine business. There’s little advertising today, and who knows when it will rebound, and most of these magazines were barely staying alive anyway. We want information, but we don’t want it irregularly and late.

And so many of the brand names have taken a hit. I used to live for “Newsweek,” but other than the name, the magazine is not the same.

And to tell you the truth, with the plethora of information online, it’s clear that most of the writing in magazines is substandard. Yes, “The New Yorker” has good writing, a cut above, but most of it is flat, in “The New Yorker” style, there’s little excitement, little YOWZA, which is why Tom Wolfe excoriated it. And frequently, “The New Yorker” gets it wrong if it’s something you know about. But it’s head and shoulders above the rest. The rest read exactly like they are, an assemblage of freelance stuff that was mediocre to begin with and was edited down to further blandness.

As for photos? There are already too many photos online!

You can’t be nostalgic for the past. There might be a small business in the past, but that’s not where people are going. Didn’t we learn this in the transition from CDs to files to streams? Hey, still got those old LaserDiscs?

So what we’re seeing with Covid-19 is an acceleration of decline, a speeding up of disruption that might have taken years otherwise.

In other words, a lot of what is eviscerated should be. You might miss them, but really you’re missing what they once were. As for “Sound & Vision”… “Stereo Review” and “High Fidelity” merged and then they merged them with a video magazine and now there’s almost no music…I’m not in the market for a projection TV, I don’t want to build a home theatre. But the magazine is chasing customers down to irrelevance, it’s sad.

So a writer in the “New York Times” who excoriated screen time did a mea culpa this week. Even Walt Mossberg went back to Facebook. Digital is the way we connect today. And it happens via screens. And magazines don’t work well on screens. Hell, it’s taken newspapers years to figure out how to display their stories online, what to focus on, do you scroll down or click through. Magazines missed this step and now they’re hopelessly behind.

Do I miss the days of spending hours reading “Rolling Stone”?

Of course.

But we don’t even live that way anymore, we have so many other distractions, and I’ve got to ask, what do most of these nincompoop musicians have to say anyway, other than promoting themselves.

Magazines are inherently general, and we no longer live in a general world.

But it’s not only magazines, more will go.

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