Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Let's Hear It for Print! Well, Glossy Print Anyway
Maybe, Just Maybe, a Magazine Resurgence Has Arrived. Here Are Four Innovators Who Keep Things Interesting
By Simon Dumenco
"I just got finished with New York magazine's new issue. After I put it down, I leafed back through all of the insightful, well-thought-out stories, beautiful glossy photographs, useful charts, and I thought to myself, 'Wow. F -- k blogs.'" -- Ricky Van Veen at rickyvanveen.com
When I read that recent, random observation on the personal blog of Ricky Van Veen, I thought, Hells yeah. It's worth noting that Van Veen is no grizzled, old-media hack swathed in gauzy nostalgia; he's the 27-year-old editor in chief of CollegeHumor.
The blog backlash has been a long time coming (actually, I guess, it's been ongoing and concurrent with the blog boom, but lately everyone I know seems down on blogs). And, arguably, a moment of glossy resurgence has arrived -- well, OK, if not a resurgence, at least a glimmer of hopefulness. Like Van Veen, I've been feeling deeply appreciative -- and even a little optimistic -- about magazines. To wit:
Speaking of New York magazine, Editor in Chief (and National Magazine Award hog) Adam Moss hardly needs any more praise from the likes of me; instead, I'll heap praise on his New York Look, a twice-yearly fashion-centric spinoff that launched last fall. I'm hardly a fashionable guy, and yet I can't wait for the spring issue. The launch issue was, simply, exhilarating -- gorgeously designed, with stunning photography, perfect pacing and elegant packaging that delivered the essential top line on the contemporary fashion moment. (Full disclosure: I used to be on staff at New York and very occasionally still write for it. I had absolutely nothing to do with the launch of New York Look.)
Fifteen months ago I tentatively praised the newly re-energized Fast Company, a once seemingly doomed Web 1.0-era business magazine that got a new lease on life when Morningstar CEO Joe Mansueto bought it. Since then, new-ish Editor in Chief Robert Safian has been putting out an increasingly smart, compelling, often contrarian take on progressive businesses (not just web companies but all sorts of operations that care deeply about design as marketing). Oh, and beyond print: Snagging celebrity tech blogger Robert Scoble to spearhead the launch of FastCompany.TV in March? Really smart.
One thing you can't take away from magazines: their, well, thingness. In a world of fleeting media delivered as ephemeral electrons, thingness -- tangibility -- matters more than ever. Case in point: New Beauty magazine's clever $25 BeautyBox (rolling out to all Borders stores in 2008), an editor-curated selection of five beauty-product samples packaged with the latest issue of the magazine. I personally couldn't care less about beauty crap, but I love it when a scrappy upstart such as New Beauty actually thinks strategically about what it can do with real-world distribution networks.
Speaking of thingness, one of my all-time favorite magazines, Vice, is free (you can find it in, for lack of a better term, "hip" shops worldwide), but it rewards its paying subscribers with an always-excellent polybagged CD sample of new music (Vice is an all-over-the-map general-interest magazine with an affinity for youth/street culture, to give you an idea of the sort of music it champions). A few years back, when I was editing Colors magazine -- the frequently rude, crude theme-centric magazine created by the late, great Tibor Kalman in 1991, which arguably helped inspire the frequently rude, crude theme-centric Vice (e.g., "the Iraq issue," "the clothes issue") -- I thought I'd never be able to put out a publication as smart/funny/provocative as Vice. I was right. Anyway, some hipster-snobs might argue that Vice is a bit long in the tooth -- it's 12 years old now -- but its just-out second-annual fiction issue (its biggest, most ad-packed issue ever) made me fall in love with it all over again