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Industry Insight

So, What is a Magazine, Really?

As most of my readers know,

By Bob Sacks
Published: June 15, 2010

As most of my readers know, I have been debating my friend Samir Husni across the country for almost a decade. He is an admitted tree hugger and I lean mightily towards a digital future for our industry. Our debates are great fun not only for the audience but for the two of us as well. We enjoy taking opposite sides of important magazine issues.

As you might expect when I saw the headline of his recent posting "So, What is a Magazine, Really?" I started reading with great interest. That is when I read the following lines by Samir

"Without the ink, the paper, the touch, the smell, the look, the taste, it will not be called a magazine." ... And, if it is not ink on paper, please try to find another name to define that new medium, because in my book if it is not printed it is not a magazine."

From my perspective these words and thoughts couldn't be more wrong. I firmly believe that ink is not one of the major components necessary for a magazine.

In working with my partners at mediaIdeas five years ago we developed a set of criteria for the definition of a magazine. We believe that a magazine must be paginated, edited, designed, date stamped, permanent, and periodic. But it does not have to use either ink or paper to be an 'official' magazine. Ink and paper are an unnecessary restriction in the 21st century. Of course, a magazine can be printed with ink on paper, but to demand that it be so is unrealistic and would doom an otherwise vibrant industry to the monasteries of time long past.

The best-selling book of all times was originally written on a scroll. Then eventually printed on paper by our friend Guttenberg. The Bible is now available digitally. Does the digital delivery mean it's not a book? I think rather that the words and thinking that are important and not the substrate.

Of course, it may not be fair but I can't help pointing out that Samir delivered his article "So What is a Magazine Really?" in a digital blog and not in a printed magazine.

 

Discussion

By Howie Fenton on Jun 16, 2010

Answering the question "does a magazine have to be printed?" makes me a schizophrenic. I am, ke many of our readers, someone who has extolled the merits of print for years. On the other hand as the former editor of a technology magazine (Pre) I would answer that a magazine is defined by its design and content. Clearly with our kids reading les newspapers, magazines and books that are printed I think we have to acknowledge that if we restrict these publications to just printed products they will wither away and die. Therefore I think we have to acknowledge that publications must be more then ink on paper.

 

By Michael Josefowicz on Jun 16, 2010

Bo,
I think your definition of a magazine "We believe that a magazine must be paginated, edited, designed, date stamped, permanent, and periodic." is brilliant.

It points to the fact that it is more than the words and content. It is defined by the characteristics of the form. Very nice.

It think it shows the value of the print version once "permanent" is part of the def.

 

By Trae Turner on Jun 24, 2010

Your definition that "a magazine must be paginated, edited, designed, date stamped, permanent, and periodic" rings true to me, too. However, I'd subtract "paginated" from that list.

Some publishers who want to go digital choose a "digital magazine" format, that looks like a traditional magazine but still has to go through the print layout/design phase before the PDF can be digitized and available to readers via a link.

I find this format less useful since the content isn't stored in a content management system, and therefore can't be available via simple, independent article searches. Since content can now be tagged to digital object identifiers (DOIs), much like ISSNs, the online content is as permanent as any biodegradable print form.

 

By Pierre Bisaillon on Jun 24, 2010

Bo,

I have great respect for Samir and the work he's done to promote the magazine industry. Even so,I have difficulty understanding that even he can truly have such a narrow view of what constitutes a magazine.
If you break his definition down a bit, he's only saying it needs to be ink on paper. Touch, smell, taste are simply attributes of paper. Look is defined by the pattern of ink. All this is window dressing to say "It needs to be ink on paper" to be a magazine.

That's narrow!!

Pierre

 

By Judy Palmer on Jun 24, 2010

The question is not "w\What is a magazine?" but instead, "How do we produce these things--whatever they're called--without advertising revenue?" Yes, online ads pay, but only a pittance when compared to print ads. And right now, print is paying for the content that is put online. Publishers should be asking themselves, "Why do we charge so little for online advertising (if it's so great and just as good as print)?"

 

By David Foe on Jun 28, 2010

Of course a magazine is printed on paper. I stick to a strict definition. A newspaper is also printed. Putting the same information online is similar content-wise, but a completely different product and experience. The process of putting them together is also far different.

Organizations like Association Media and Publishing seem to be actively greasing the skids for any type of print publication, which I think is unfortunate and wrong.

I know I will miss magazines and print after they are no longer here. Whatever replaces them will not be the same, and it will not be a magazine.

 

By BoSacks on Jul 01, 2010

I note to David who says if it is not on paper it can't be a magazine.

The teamsters haven’t distributed anything using horses for over one hundred years, yet they still perform the same function. They distribute the goods our society needs. They adapted how they perform without changing their name.

The same will happen with magazines whither anyone likes it or not. We are in the information distribution business. We will distribute that information wherever two necessary ingredients are. The readers and the money. The readers are increasingly on-line. That is a fact and a trend that is not going to change. The money is being moved on line as I write this. Right now publishers get 10% of their revenue from digital. By 2020 publishers will get 60% of their revenue by Digital means.

If we as information providers are going to survive it will be by adapting to the times like the teamsters. Or perhaps you would like your California avocados three months too late?

BoSacks
-30-

 

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