I’ve received some killer deals on magazine subscriptions lately. My business identity has found its way to publishers’ mailing lists, and I’m being offered “business rates” on publications like Newsweek and PC World and The New Yorker. Like a fool, I’ve been signing up for $10 and $20 annual subscriptions, sometimes for multiple years. “These are offers I can’t refuse!” I tell myself, not understanding that in most cases they are offers I should refuse.
You see, the magazine is a dying medium.
Magazines aren’t dead yet, of course; certain periodicals thrive and prosper, and will continue to do so for decades. Magazines like Harper’s and National Review and National Geographic and The New Yorker are filled with feature-length articles, the kind of stuff that you can curl up with in your favorite chair and devour on a Sunday afternoon. These kinds of magazines still have a future. (Kris wants me to point out that cooking magazines have a future, too.)
I’m more concerned for magazines like PC World and Macworld and Newsweek and Time — magazines filled with timely information. When I leaf through these publications, it’s like I’m living in a time warp. I’m literally reading yesterday’s news. (It’s no wonder that most of these magazines have robust web sites that actually contain more and better information than the print editions.)
The latest issue of Macworld arrived in my mailbox today. It’s all about the awesome new MacBook Pro. Too bad this was news in February. Macworld used to be a thick, dense publication, full of in-depth reviews and useful columns. When I started reading it in the late eighties, it was the primary source for Macintosh news. I looked forward to it every month. Now MacWorld is a lightweight hundred pages or so, most of which are ads. There wasn’t a single piece of useful information in the new issue. It’s a good thing my subscription was free, or I’d feel cheated.
My subscription to Newsweek, however, wasn’t free, and I do feel cheated. I thought I was getting an awesome bargain at $20/year, so I signed up for three years. That’s right: I’m a Newsweek subscriber until 2009. What kind of idiot am I? This magazine is worthless. Any “news” it contains, I’ve already read about on the internet, sometimes more than a week before, and from a variety of sources and viewpoints. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were keen features — there aren’t. There are whole pages in the back of the magazine devoted to celebrity gossip, and not even extended celebrity gossip, but little sentence-length nuggets about Britney Spears and Tom Cruise and I don’t really give a rat’s ass. I feel dirty having subscribed to this magazine. I’m starting a personal finance site and I make dumb mistakes like this? Somebody shoot me.
I suspect that newspapers are near an end, too. Why should I pay nearly $300/year for delivery of the Sunday New York Times when I can get most of the content on-line for free? (And if I want the really good stuff, I can subscribe to Times Select for $50/year.)
Newspapers won’t actually die until there are quality localized news sites to replace them, though. Here in Portland, there’s nothing that fits the bill. Oregon Live sucks: it’s difficult to navigate, doesn’t seem to be run by anyone local, and has an atrocious archiving system. The only site that comes close to a local news source is ORblogs, a local weblog aggregator, but it’s not actually the same thing as reading the paper.
Magazines and newspapers used to be the way we kept in contact with the world. Ten years into the digital revolution, the internet is finally putting the old media to rest.