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Print Magazines vs. The Internet

Curiosity has me turning to our friends and readers of this blog. I am asking for a bit of your time to comment on this post, the more the better, everyone is welcome.

This quote from Rob Haggart’s site A Photo Editor has me wondering what all of you think about PRINT magazines these days.

Regarding Editorial Print Publications:

“Most of those titles are boring. Editorial direction is dictated by marketing needs, so content is designed to keep the advertisers happy rather than to attract and stimulate readers. The result is that readers are bored, they don’t buy the bland products on offer. And so the advertisers pull out.” …via Journalism.co.uk

The subject I would like feedback on is whether or not you are buying magazines, or even newspapers, like you were 5 or 10 years ago. Are you still interested in print magazines? Or, are you purely getting your news, entertainment, information, etc… from the web.

How many magazines might you have subscribed to 10 or 15 years ago vs. today. If you no longer read print magazines, do you still view the same publications online? Do you look at eMags? Or do you seek the subject matter you are interested in via all new sources, or a mix of sources?

And finally, advertising. With print magazines we had no choice but to look at ads, they were part of the physical property of the magazine. But with the web, we have the choice to more or less read all our news and entertainment without any ads using, for example, Google Reader, RSS feeds, etc… Do you feel ads are a part of your online life? Have you taken steps to avoid them?

My thoughts:

10 years ago I subscribed to two mags, both for Bike Racing, one from the UK and one American. Now, I subscribe to neither – I get 100% of my cycling info from the web and not from either of their sites.

When I fly I might purchase a news magazine, but more than likely I’ll be enjoying a book, which is what I prefer to read if I have some spare time.

Magazines are limited to what is between the covers, the web is unlimited. The web is an interactive journey, sit down, explore your subject matter and who knows where all the many links will lead you. And of course, there is video. By the time a magazine hits the news stands much of what you are after has already been available online.

The web is instant gratification, all encompassing, and endlessly informative. I am always impressed by how many people use our DolomiteSport site. We average 300 visits a day but certain subjects are guaranteed to increase this to 600 a day for the posting date. One small information/inspiration site on the subject of mountain sports – we’ll call it 400 visits a day. This compared to a small mountain sports magazine, published monthly, with high overhead. All of this for a circulation of 20,000, or 670/day.

If I had to re-write the above mentioned quote, but with regards to the internet experience, it might sound more like this:

“The internet experience is consistently interesting. Web content is dictated not by advertisers, but by the desire to be stimulating and informative to the visitors. The result is that visitors keep coming back after bookmarking sites. Or, new visitors are generated through the instant gratification of Social Media tools such as Twitter. If a site fails, there are surely dozens of others a click away.”

Now it is your turn, this is purely meant to get a collection of thoughts on this subject. Please also feel free to spread the link.

Thank you for taking the time to comment on all of this.

Dan & Janine Patitucci

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Comments 29

  1. Hmmm, where to start … I’ve never been used to buy magazines, as for the work I do, we receive plenty of magazines that 90% of the time after less than 30 seconds (the time needed to dispose the plastic cover that can not be recycled) finish in the bin.

    We have to buy some daily newspapers for our guests at home, but I never read them.

    When I need something, or want to read something I go on-line. About the ads on-line, honestly they doesn’t disturb me, neighter did they disturb me in magazines, you just don’t need to look at them 🙂

    Igor

  2. A can of worms on a hot, tin roof. I’m a freelance writer who depends on the mags and newspapers because in most cases the Web doesn’t pay squat. As a reader I subscribe to (in order of importance) New Yorker, Harper’s, NY Times Sunday, Alpinist, Climbing, R&I, Nat Geo Adv because the last thing I want to do after spending all day in front of a screen is, well, spend more time in front of a screen for “pleasure.”

    But writing for the web is far more fun. Editor expectations are low (they’re getting free content after all) and they usually give me cart blanc. Good example is Climbing mag. I write for both their print and web version and enjoy the latter and am somewhat pained by the former. None of this really puts food on the table. But I hope that one day, perhaps naively so, that the web will start paying for intellectual property, be it photos or text, and not expect it all to be free. This means a totally new approach to advertising in order to generate the funds to pay people properly, something that has yet to be worked out.

    And print media, seems to me, will go the way of the passenger pigeon if they keep up the current model of “Editorial direction is dictated by marketing needs, so content is designed to keep the advertisers happy rather than to attract and stimulate readers,” as Rob so blithely put it.

    1. A can of worms for sure. Great feedback, thanks Bruce.
      As photographers, we are both terrified and inspired at how this will all play out. I do not see web content paying much anytime soon, at least not for the kind of content we have been creating and licensing. But there are so many opportunities, and this is what I love and keeps me psyched. It is a fun game, no?

  3. In general I prefer the paperless route for many reasons but most of all for the sustainability of electronic media. Please keep in mind that I am not a media professional so my business is only effected slightly by the electronic verses paper option. Some of the Magazines I like are not available in online versions so I would like to see this more of an option. Going the paper route seems like a better option for the future if I were to only base my opinion on a more holistic approach to media. I wouldn’t mind paying for content on the web as long as it’s worth paying for, even though this topic would be very subjective.

  4. Do I still try to buy magazines? Yes, but more out of a desire to support certain community leaders than to get informed. I mostly get my information using RSS feeds, twitter, and facebook. Three years ago I subscribed to three different magazines. Now I buy an issue every so often. I do still view many of the same publications, but they make up only a small portion of my online reading. I haven’t taken steps to avoid advertisements, mostly because they are put in places I can ignore them (right side bars, banners, etc).

    I have always been enthralled by print media. I could say that I get magazines for the articles but that is a lie. There is something magical about seeing photographs in print; to see them used in a well designed layout. In addition to this, magazines provide a much better history of my personal interests over the years. I still have stacks of National Geographic and Climbing Magazine lying around that I occasionally look through. And, although I bookmark websites extensively, and save articles I find useful, I only browse those digital archives when looking for something specific.

    The online experience is forcing advertisers to be more creative in terms of generating content that we seek out instead of interrupting our other experiences. One example of this is Nike sponsored artist James Jarvis creating running animations. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZHBSBG7RSs)

    The other benefit I love is the freedom the internet gives artists. It allows them to inspire in ways that just weren’t available before. Maisie Crow’s multimedia piece on the Prader-Willi syndrom is an amazing example of this. (http://www.maisiecrow.com/pages/5/MULTIMEDIA/MULTIMEDIA/)

    The biggest difference caused by the shift to the internet is in how people participate in their different communities. In the past your bike magazines were the voice of the cycling community, and people rallied around that voice. Now there are many more ways that people can not only rally, but participate and contribute to the community. Clay Shirky’s description of this phenomenon in his book Here Comes Everyone changed how I understood the internet.
    Link to the book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Here-Comes-Everybody-Organizing-Organizations/dp/1594201536

    Videos about the book:

    http://fora.tv/2008/07/06/Clay_Shirky_Here_Comes_Everybody_1_of_4

    Thanks for always share your experiences. You are an inspiration to me to get out, do more and be better.

    Steve Walters

    1. Great feedback here everyone, thanks.
      A couple of things that came to mind.
      Like Karina, I see the mags being in a terrible Catch 22. Make the advertisers happy but by doing so alienate/bore readers. Being a photographer, I see it all the time. The connection is not lost on content providers. I see Top 10 “Whatever” of America all the time, with Tourism ads right alongside. Or the Best Hiking Trails in Kansas – Kansas? Come on… Meanwhile the mags say no to stunning photos of International destinations, best to save room for Kansas and that tourism ad that will accompany the article. Sadly, the readers disappear.
      Best to turn to the web, if something is boring, you are a click away from being out of there and you spent nothing.
      But I agree with Steve, I like to see things in print. I like to lay on the couch and read a magazine. Photos are getting better online as the presentation improves.
      There are many online “magazines” like Wend and Matador, which are in some ways an aggregate source of info for the subject matter. They have their own content, but they are very present in Social Media where I am continually finding myself landing on their sites. I like how they work and find great stuff via their proactive strategy.
      Thanks to Steve for the links – I will have a look. This entire shift is having a huge impact on our business. As editorial dries up it takes traditional advertising along with it – both of which we rely on.
      Yet I am fascinated by the web and the possibilities.
      The next question of course is, like Curly brought up – paying for online content. Are we really willing, are any sites right now good enough to pay for given what else you can find? The answer is yes, but is it sustainable?

  5. As a former staffer at a small magazine, I have mixed feelings on all of your questions.

    I don’t subscribe to magazines. I make a regular trip to my local book store to thumb through them and if an article strikes me, I will buy it. Like Bruce, I enjoy checking out from my computer and relaxing with a good mag or book.

    Because my former job had my hands in all aspects of the magazine business it is difficult for me to ignore the ad/edit connection. It is quite disturbing to me how blatantly obvious edit is tied in with advertising in a majority of titles big and small. In my mind, this is shady business in some respects. I am left with less respect for the magazine as a whole (not the amazing writers individually). The online ads don’t bother me as much (if they don’t flash and dance on my screen). Sometimes they will even grab my attention with interesting or engaging content.

    I do find myself seeking information online, reading blogs like this one that evoke thought and engagement. The web is “right now” and I love that, however I question where the authority is. How do I know that the person who wrote that travel blog or gear review knows what they are talking about? I am enjoying trying to figure that question out though.

  6. I spent 5 years working to extend print content online (mywire.com & zinio.com), and I learned two important things about the publishing industry and how people like to consume content.

    1) The publishing industry is slow to evolve, and they’re struggling to mate print and online publishing, distribution, and monetization. They may never get it right, and print could continue to spiral into extinction.

    2) People like the experience of reading magazines. It’s a combination of the tactile feel, the few moments of escape, and the complete immersion into a theme.

    I really love print magazines. I get a better feeling consuming a magazine cover to cover, because I have both focus on a theme, and a sense of accomplishment. And it’s a very well designed package/experience. Where online is just…everything.

    I hope print never goes away. I just hope it evolves to where it needs to be. There are some small publishers doing it right (bikemonkey, embrocation journal, Rouleur). I hope that model continues to do well.

  7. I might be a bit behind the times, but I still do enjoy print magazines exclusively. I enjoy the pictures so much more in print, as well as the mobility of a magazine. I often have a couple in my car in case I get held up somewhere (or traffic is bad–tee hee!) I tend to think of my computer still as a work tool rather than one for enjoyment and relaxation. Sitting on my back porch with coffee and a magazine will always be my style of relaxation as long as mags are in print. I subscribe to about 4 magazines currently–one cooking, 2 outdoor, and national geographic, of course. In our household, we subscribe to about 6 total.

  8. First off – I am just Joe Blow the recreationist. I have no experience or affiliation with print or online media.
    The only recreation oriented print I continue to purchase is based on high-quality photographs (such as Alpinist, Cross-Country, Frequency). A printed photo will never compare to a photo on a monitor. I also brose magazines at Barnes & Noble and will purchase if an off beat article catches my eye (such as a historical article about Hexel skis in Ski Journal or a humorous article in Road).
    Time is of the essence – I just watched live online as Tyler won in Spain, yet I remember having to wait almost a month after the Tour to get results via Winning magazine. Print is basically yesterday’s news.
    It is hard to imagine print totally going away, but who knows what the future holds.
    Thanks for your blog. It is very inspirational and beautiful!

    1. An interesting follow up on some folk’s thoughts regarding how photos on a monitor will never be as good as in print. I completely agree with this, our standards seem lower for online photos. But for print this is not true. Mags like Surfer’s Journal, Rouleur, and Alpinist are so beautiful because of the photography. Yet……. several of the huge American outdoor mags are telling me they are cutting back on the photo budget to save money – and they are seeking “satisfactory” cheaper alternatives.

  9. Hard to give a scharp-cutting answer.
    I have to make a dinstincion between the 2 main subjets I am regulary reading about:
    daily news (economy, politic and all other stuff that if I would live in a honest world I wouldn’t read) and architecture.
    Regarding news I always hated newspapers…they are oversized and the human hands have been clearly not built to handle with them…at least my hands.
    Moreover I cand find in Internet a much better information. If there is still someone who writes what is really going on and not what makes the boss happy…he writes for sure on the web!
    On the contrary I could never read with satisfaction anything about architecture through a screen. I am a pencil-addicted, I need to make notes, to draw ideas beside or simply to have the desk full of books and magazines while I’m planing.
    I would at least swich my subsciptions to a digital version (cheaper and environmental-frendly) if I could, but i think I won’t read anymore.
    For sure internet research is part of what I do, but if I would read only for my knowledge/pleasure and not also because I need it for my job, I would most probably skip this part and read only from magazines.
    About advertising…looking at advertising is not always sens-less for an architect (we will work with many of them…).
    Summing up: print magazines are for sure in a big crisis…but I hope they will survive a some years more 😉

  10. The print publishing (magazine) industry is dying. Flexible screen technology isn’t that far away. I’ve handled really good prototypes (even the Kindle). The winner will be the publisher who understands and embraces online advertising models and the traditional excellence in print editorial.

    1. Jonathan, how will content change? Or will it, when the online experience is the primary method for getting editorial stories? Of course video and New Media, but do you see a shift in what people are after online vs. with print?

  11. Sure, we receive a lot of our information on the internet, but we still enjoy magazines and newspapers, particularly those with longer-length feature articles about important subjects. We stopped subscribing to Outside magazine because it changed from an outdoors/adventure magazine to a men’s magazine. But publications like National Geographic and High Country News have continued to provide readers with informative, well-written articles, along with great photography. As long as they continue to do so, we will continue supporting them and their advertisers.

  12. I still enjoy mags though I don’t purchase as many as I once did. As one respondent said, they go anywhere, and I love holding something tangable in my hands.

    However, I still perfer albums to CD’s so I’m definitely behind the times. My kids will probably never read mags and get all their content online.

  13. Morning.
    I am in the same boat as Kevin. I buy mags. I get bored reading online. I like to hold something and flip through the pages-lay on the floor. I like to have them laying around so that when I have forgotten about a particular story or article that I wanted to read I am reminded because it’s sitting there. I can’t do that w/ electronics. I like having mtb and climbing magazines all over my house. I like to use the pictures for other things too. Yeah I could print them but I like them coming from the mag. I go in and out of spurts of buying different magazines. I’ll go into Borders and buy 4 or 5 biking mags depending on what’s in them then wait for awhile and buy some more. I get tired of sitting in front of a computer because that’s what I do all day and I like the idea of not being connected to the rest of the world all the time-no temptation for distraction w/ email or facebook. I can take my mags on my adventures for the resting times. I like mags! I prefer them! And when I find one I really like I still get subscriptions from time to time but it has to be pretty bad ass.

  14. Hey guys! What a great site. And what wonderful photography.
    My husband and I are professional photographers and we shoot a variety of work including nature, landscape, architecture, sports and lifestyle, product and portraiture. Thus, we are always scouring the web for new, interesting and related information. It’s an interesting discussion, but a telling tale is how I nearly busted a gut when someone just yesterday asked for the yellow pages while I visited my favorite Kayak supplier. We throw the yellow pages in the recycle bin and totally wish that Dex would stop delivering them. If I need a number, I go online.

    But — there are many times when we read a print publication. Some places are just not suited for a computer, if you get my drift. And I often prefer the relaxing mode of sitting in an easy chair with a hard copy in front of my eyes. It’s easy on the eyes and I can concentrate much longer.

    We have way too many subscriptions coming to the house. At first it seemed like a great idea. There are 5 that come because we bought in to a kids’ school fundraiser. But they come and they pile up. Bottom line for me is I don’t take the time to read the print mags often enough to justify the subscriptions. My plan is to keep 4 subscriptions and get rid of the rest.

    I think mags will always be around. I think people will be more discretionary about what and why they buy print. I feel better by donating my mags to hospital or doctor’s offices after I’ve read them. My issue with mags is they become fire hazards and space hogs when they’ve piled up high enough.

  15. Interesting topic! I find myself surfing the internet more often than not and buying magazines less and less. The only print magazine I still get are Alpinist and Dwell [not sure why the latter since everything ends up online 2 weeks later]. My only gripe about the internet, and this is probably related to my personality, is that it is far less personal. With a book or a magazine I feel compelled to get to the end of what I am reading but with the internet I often scan through stuff and move onto the next thing quickly. The internet is where things are going, but it is a far less personal place than holding a book or magazine in your hands with no other potential distractions.

  16. I like magazines better for stories and enjoying, but I use the internet for getting info I need. I don’t think the internet can properly replace magazines, even though it may cause them to become extinct and then we will all miss them, like we all missed out on living with dinosaurs. If we don’t figure out something before magazines die we’ll invent something new once we remember what it was that drew us to magazines in the first place: big photos, authoritative sources, good stories, ease on the eyes and portability…

  17. These are scary and exciting times for those of us who are in, or even worse, trying to get in to the industry. There are a few common themes that I notices running through this discussion. 1. Print media is a horrible medium from news, current events and anything related to the space/time continuum. 2. Most people, when given the opportunity to think about it, come to the conclusion that they prefer some form of tactile media. 3. Most people seem to buy less of said tactile media than they used to.

    When I think about these things and others, I can’t help but feeling like the print industry and the consumers have been conspiring together to kill print media. On one hand, you’ve got print media, where the content has apparently gone downhill, and is married to the ad side, edit budgets that are typically much, much larger than image budget, even though people here seem to be talking about images being their favorite part of mags, and the fact that most publications are 60% advertising and 40% content. On the other hand, you’ve got a small group of people who appreciate print and support it, and medium sized group of people who appreciate print, yet apparently don’t support it, and a large group of people who would rather have something mediocre for free on the internet than pay for something that may or may not be slightly better, because at the end of the day, they just don’t actually care.

    I love magazines. I can’t stand reading articles on the web, and looking at photos is even worse; printed photos just look so good. But that will change. Internet and screen technology will continue to improve and the difference between it and print will most likely narrow considerably.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about telling stories and, unfortunately, making money. To think that either of those things are going to go away is a bit silly, and yet I find myself thinking that all the time. This world is filled with extremely smart and creative people. I hope that physical printed media stays for good, but if it doesn’t I know that creative people will still find way to tell amazing and captivating stories with images and words. And they, or other people, will find a way to make it profitable. People will remember soon enough that you weren’t paying to get a story and a picture, you were paying to get a great story and a great picture. As internet content continues to rise in popularity, yet is infrequently properly budgeted to ensure quality, I think the general public will begin to come back to the conclusion that it’s worth it to pay a little money to get something of consistent quality.

  18. After reading all the comments I think it is safe to say we all feel much the same way. We do not want to see print magazines go away, but we all see the writing on the wall.
    For me the question remains, what sort of pay per usage will come on the web? and how will it be greeted? will there be such a glut of content that people will have little desire to pay for anything? Or can the magazines continue with a print version with creative distribution while being married to a web version that has people wanting/willing to pay for both.
    The web is like a game, we hunt for content, and that is part of the fun. Perhaps this replaces the tactile nature of reading a magazine. Yet for those of us who grew up with print, we’ll always want that kicking back on the couch with a magazine to browse from cover to cover.
    With a magazine, our attention span is numbered in pages. With the web it is numbered in lines. This is sad. I am sure this is consistent with all of us. Who wants to read a 10 page article online? But it is exciting to see what sort of technology comes along. As always, it is all about technology that will allow the creative content to shine.

  19. My 3 house mates and I regularly buy the Big Issue magazine and we always get a weekend paper, normally the times but on occaison the guardian. Despite being an extreme sports fan I don’t buy any extreme sports magazines, because i can get my info on the web. There was a story today saying that 70% of newspaper content providers want to follow Mr Murdoch and charge for access to their content. When other studies show that only 1-5% of people are willing to pay for content I don’t think this will work. Saying that I do buy cosmo and have bought Marie Claire on occaison for the stories. I think that magazines have not really caught up with online developments yet. E.g i am yet to ever visit the marie claire website. What do you think can be done to continue the future of print? Should it be continued?

    1. I really have no idea how mags can survive. They need ad sales to make it, but ad sales often force them to provide certain content to continue the ad sales. Personally, I am completely bored with most print magazines because they just run the same old stories over and over again.
      Why do we need a top ten list for everything? How many diets and ab workouts do we want to read about? No thanks – I’ll go online for my content.
      But yes, mags must continue – the experience is unique and one we do not want to lose. They just have to figure out a way to be sustainable while satisfying the consumer and the advertiser.
      And, they need to effectively join the online content with the print so the two support one another.

  20. Hmm… then again here’s another vision of the future. Video imbedded right into the pages of magazines. Interestingly, I bet it won’t be Outside doing this first, but rather the porn industry as they seem to be the first to “exploit” (among other things) technology. Think broadband for instance.

    Check it out here:

    1. I did see the video on Outside’s production. My thoughts are how to make it cost effective. Production expenses looked high. How much is the technology? Limitations of the technology vs what we already have in our laptops, Smartphones, desktops…? Can a high priced magazine with this new technology compete with another device with unlimited access?

  21. Hi Dan and Janine,

    The best shot in the recent Alpinist (I bought it to read the Bachar tribute) – is of a knife-edge traverse somewhere in Nepal. The focal point is lost in the centerfold. Like, didn’t they think about this??

    Magazines take up space. Online I can dictate my own content, seek answers to questions I come up with on my own. The Magazine is a spoon-fed experience, and often simply misleading due to the hidden interests of advertisers. (when I worked in the industry, we wrote our own reviews for the mags!) Plus the content of magazines is often abbreviated, sometimes to the point of frustration.

    But I love the experience and I love the gear. I think you do too, as I remember discussing your approach to photography at OR some years ago. Print has certainly made you successful, but the content of your photos (i.e. product placement) makes them perfectly suited to the online format. What is nice to see is that over the years your work has gained recognition on its own merits, not simply as a showcase for gear in its element.

    I believe the next step is that of the athletes themselves creating a web environment with unabbreviated content to their own exploits. For example Matt Wilder’s ascent of The Path on Vimeo. It is a perfect venue for the sponsors, the athlete, as well as the visitor. Well, ok, it isn’t perfect, but you hardly get a mention of this stuff in Climbing, etc.

    Lastly, the magazines love their favorites. I’m sick of Graham Waston cycling shots in Velonews; same old, same old. Outside has its own “in” crowd that they recycle over and over. Barf.

    Keep up the good work, keep having fun, and keep sharing with us!!

    Thanks,

    Olivier

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks Will,
      And this is exactly what prompted me to post this on Twitter. I just traveled to and from Asia so had the long haul flights. With the new iPad in hand, I voraciously read books & magazines on the iPad yet didn’t touch a single newspaper or magazine. Kindles were seen in great abundance on the flights, in hotels and even on the beaches. Now I too am considering subscribing to magazines for reading on devices.
      This is of great interest to me as a photographer as our editorial stock photo sales for print magazines are basically gone, yet the same magazines are wanting more photos than ever for online content, problem being that they don’t want to pay for them citing that it is just, “online usage”.
      I find it fascinating to hear what other people with the same interests as myslef are doing for accessing information within the outdoor sport world – so thanks Will,
      Dan

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