Monday, August 25, 2008

Paying for paper: the great magazine mystery

I spend so much time reading text on a screen these days that it's been both a novelty and a pleasure to have a couple of decent length train journeys this weekend to give my eyes a break and do some old-school magazine reading. After some prevaricating in Smiths, prompted by the bewildering array of titles now on offer (Media UK lists 1,956), I plumped for Wired, EDGE, T3 and Retro Gamer with my subscription copy of Empire tucked away in my bag for good measure. The total cover price? £21.88 (an average of £4.38 per title).

What struck me about this (apart from how readily I seem to part with money at train stations) is how much of the content I am paying for in dead-tree format is available for free on the net. (all the Wired articles, all the EDGE and Empire reviews, much of T3's news and features). And I'm seemingly not the only one shelling out in this way. According to a recent PPA Marketing overview, consumer expenditure on magazines has increased by almost 50% in the decade since the dawn of the internet (11% in real terms) with more of 'the internet generation' (whatever that means) reading consumer magazines than any other age group.

So, why do we do it and will this behaviour change once high-speed wireless internet access becomes ubiquitous and eMagazine readers become affordable (or, more likely, their functionality starts being adequately replicated on entry-level mobile phones / other multi-function devices)? I suspect it's a mixture of habit, convenience and a well-established relationship with the physical product which keeps us buying and which wireless devices and electronic ink cannot yet match and may never totally supplant. I also wonder if there's something reassuringly finite about a magazine in this era of unlimited information; a bound and curated volume of stuff that an editorial team has deemed worthy of my attention versus an increasingly unwieldy feedreader with hundreds of unread items...

Do you still buy magazines which offer some or all of the same content online for free? If so, why?


Arnold Friend said...

Hi Dan! I'm not sure how I stumbled over this, but I'm really enjoying your blog. I think you're a great writer. I'd suggest you swing by mine periodically, but it's real boring stuff. Enter at your own risk.



Anonymous said...

From the outset I'll confess to hating magazines (excluding my adolescent affair with top shelf wonders); but I reckon there's a degree to which people will still turn to the turning of a page to relax, rather than the scrolling of a Kindle.

And I think the word 'relax' is key to that being remotely true. When women are asked what a magazine like Vogue or Cosmopolitan mean to them they often answer 'It's a luxury'; when asked about magazines such as OK, Heat etc. they say 'it's a break'; men when asked often say they read magazines for a laugh or along similar lines.

Vogue (and its competitive kin) are a paper substitute for a slow, massage with perfumed oils in a day spa - a dipping into something glorious, beautiful and not quite of the true world. Heat offers a quick-fix, mindless, guilty pleasure fest in fifteen minutes (of shame). Empire, Q or Stuff offer a distraction and entertainment for men without the need to 'surf'.

And there's the rub. You can't really flick through a website with the ease of a mag. Evolution's answer - a finger and thumb turning a page - is hard to beat. You can flick back and forth lazily and with abandon in a mag. If something comes up, you put it down and know it's there in a second to pick up again. A website, there's always that fear that it might not be there when you get back to it. Nor can it guarantee that you'll bother to go back at all.

Man of us (more and more?) spend their day in front of a VDU - working, so when that moment to take a break, to relax, to step into the warm bath of effective prose and glossy images comes, I reckon many will want that moment to come from a different source to that which they spend all day working / shirking on.

I never buy mags. I prefer a book any day. But likewise - I don't see myself grabbing for a Kindle (if it ever arrives in the UK!). When I'm not playing the DS that is...!

Dan Taylor said...

@Courtney - thanks. Glad you're enjoying the blog. Will check yours out.

@article dan - I think you're on the money re. relaxation. Clicking through 200 web pages just doesn't fall into that category for most people.

Anonymous said...

I think you're on the money with your take there Dan. There will always be something about the physical format of a magazine that other media just can't replicate (my wife talks about the smell of the bound-in fragrance samples when you open a magazine). The best ones though acheive a real personality and a relationship with their readers through the team of people (esp. the Editor) that put it together. I'd say my own fave - WORD magazine - is particularly good at that.

Anonymous said...

It's not particularly safe to read from your computer in the bathtub, for one.

There's also something about the art and design of magazines that makes me love thumbing through them, even though I do get much more content off the Web these days.