The Life and Death and Life of Magazines
Is this graph an accurate history of American magazine publishing? Has the Internet decimated the remains of our attention spans? That’s not exactly the case. Read The Life and Death and Life of Magazines, and learn how magazines have been dying since there have been magazines.
“Worse, we’re told that it has paradoxically fostered a new scourge for great magazine writing: more of it,” writes Evan Ratliff. “In just the last five years, web sites and magazines new and old—from Nautilus to BuzzFeed to Matter to The Atavist Magazine, which I edit—have added to an ambitious resurgence in long, serious magazine writing. While this might seem like a sign of life, critics have explained that in fact such efforts are diminishing this great craft. Terms like “longform” and #hashtags like #longreads—through which readers recommend work they appreciate to other potential readers—only serve to dilute what was once the purview of discriminating enthusiasts alone. “The problem,” Jonathan Mahler wrote in the New York Times in 2014, “is that long-form stories are too often celebrated simply because they exist.” It was bad enough when our capacity to produce and read great stories collapsed. Now it seems we’ve turned around and loved magazine writing to death.”
Best Books of 2015
Happy New Year! Did you read any great books in 2015? One of my favorites is M Train, Patti Smith’s intellectual memoir that’s so hard to characterize. Is it a memoir? Not really. It is a wonderful account of the books, poems, music and ideas that have shaped her life. Let’s just call it good. Bill Gates picks a few of his favorites from the year in this video below. I also enjoyed The Road to Character by David Brooks. Other favorites I read in 2015 incude Lincoln’s Gamble by Todd Brewster, Curiosity by Philip Ball, and In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria.
The Shape of the New
"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”
Victor Hugo, ‘Histoire d’un crime,’ 1852
So begins an interesting new book that I just received as an early Christmas present frommy wife: The Shape of the New. As Fareed Zakaria writes in his New York Times review of the book, authors Scott L. Montgomery and Daniel Chirot argue that ideas “do not merely matter; they matter immensely, as they have been the source for decisions and actions that have structured the modern world.”
“The authors adopt the conventional (and correct) view of the Enlightenment,” writes Zakaria, “that between the late 17th and early 19th centuries, a number of philosophers and other writers advanced theories — about economics, politics, science and society — that marked a decisive break with the past. These concepts, they believe, still define the modern world.” The book looks at four ideas and how they have shaped life as we know it today: Charles Darwin and evolution; Adam Smith and capitalism; Karl Marx and communism; and Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and democracy.
Here is the Barnes and Noble description of the book: “A testament to the enduring power of ideas, The Shape of the New offers unforgettable portraits of Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx—heirs of the Enlightenment who embodied its highest ideals about progress—and shows how their thoughts, over time and in the hands of their followers and opponents, transformed the very nature of our beliefs, institutions, economies, and politics. Yet these ideas also hold contradictions. They have been used in the service of brutal systems such as slavery and colonialism, been appropriated and twisted by monsters like Stalin and Hitler, and provoked reactions against the Enlightenment’s legacy by Islamic Salafists and the Christian Religious Right.
“The Shape of the New argues that it is impossible to understand the ideological and political conflicts of our own time without familiarizing ourselves with the history and internal tensions of these world-changing ideas. With passion and conviction, it exhorts us to recognize the central importance of these ideas as historical forces and pillars of the Western humanistic tradition. It makes the case that to read the works of the great thinkers is to gain invaluable insights into the ideas that have shaped how we think and what we believe.”
I’m looking forward to a few good reads over the holiday season.
A Life on the Frontier
I’ve always wanted to know more about George Armstrong Custer. In the hands of Pulitzer Prize winning author T.J. Stiles, Custer’s life is sure to be a wonderful read. My copy of Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America is already on the shelf. As Stiles says in this NPR interview, “We see him as the hero who died to spread civilization, or we see him as the bloodthirsty, arrogant military commander who has complete disregard for indigenous life, or we see him as the heroism and the valor that, you know, Americans imagine as being part of the American character. What we need to do is not get caught up in any one sense of Custer.”
The State of Consumer Magazines
In his piece for Folio title Assessing the State of the Consumer Magazine Print Business, Baird Davis writes that the industry’s transition from print to a hybrid digital format has been more difficult than could have been imaging five years ago. “In the rush to the digital future, publishers have taken their eyes off the print-ball.”
Davis’ article relies on analysis of print performance, along with information gleaned from “two recent interviews: one conducted by Samir Husni with Bob Garfield, media columnist and critic, and the other a W Magazine interview with Condé Nast’s Bob Sauerberg.” In his intro, Davis writes that magazine publishers are no longer able to change the economics imposed by the digital revolution. One confounding aspect is that while the audiences continue to grow, CPMs continue to go down. Garfield also says in his interview that “although the company’s monthly visitors have increased 33 percent in the last year to 87 million, company revenues decreased, primarily because of continued weakness in print advertising.”
“Their comments perfectly capture the transition dilemma facing consumer magazine publishers,” writes Davis. “The Sauerberg interview demonstrated that publishers, even ones as big and successful as Condé Nast, still depend on print advertising to support this difficult transition. And in both interviews there’s a resigned acknowledgment that there are no easy revenue solutions in today’s media world, where the consumer magazine industry’s major competitors now include Google, Facebook and Amazon.”
It’s a prescient observation of today’s magazine environment.
A Buyer Centric Content Strategy
"Most marketers no longer need convincing that content marketing is the key strategy to engage customers,” writes Carlos Hidalgo in the October issue of Chief Content Officer. “But too many organizations try to juice returns by generating more content through more channels at faster speeds. Such an approach is doomed to fail.”
Why do they do it? It’s the technology, writes Hidalgo, and the increasing number of options: cloud-based platforms, dynamic web pages, a wealth of social media channels and countless other innovations aim to help marketers automate processes and scale their efforts. Just push another button, and better and better tools will make marketing magic happen.”
Hildalgo outlines a plan for developing a real buyer-centric content marketing strategy. I would recommend all marketers read his story. “The key question is not how fast, how easily or how much marketers are able to disseminate; instead, you must ask what kind of content will best connect your brand with your buyers and customers.”
The History of Cartography
Called the “most ambitious overview of map making ever undertaken,” by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times, The History of Cartography, published by the University of Chicago, is now available free online. The first three volumes can be found here. “People come to know the world the way they come to map it—through their perceptions of how its elements are connected and of how they should move among them,” wrote Rothstein. “This is precisely what the series is attempting by situating the map at the heart of cultural life and revealing its relationship to society, science, and religion.”
From the University of Chicago site: “The first volume of the History of Cartography was published in 1987 and the three books that constitute Volume Two appeared over the following eleven years. In 1987 the worldwide web did not exist, and since 1998 book publishing has gone through a revolution in the production and dissemination of work. Although the large format and high quality image reproduction of the printed books (see right column) are still well-suited to the requirements for the publishing of maps, the online availability of material is a boon to scholars and map enthusiasts.”
The Court and the World
"In his new book, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer details why American courts no longer have any choice about involving themselves in the law beyond U.S. borders.” Listen to his interview on NPR.
Frank Lloyd Wright on Religion, Education and Nature
Frank Lloyd Wright shares his unique perspectives on religion, nature and education in this rare clip from June 1957.
Recently: Your Life as a Monthly Magazine
Love magazines? Like to see your life’s experiences in their pages every month? This recent article about a new app called Recently captured my attention.
It’s simple. For a simple monthly fee of $8.99, you can upload a set of your recent photos and have them printed and delivered in a monthly magazine. Davie Pierini writes in Cult of Mac, “There are a number of apps that offer analog products to encourage iPhone photographers to archive their cherished photos before a thief or a hard drive crash wipes out those memories. Many of the apps focus on print services or allow users to design simple photo books.”
Pierini quotes a recent review as well:
“In a world that has slipped all too quickly into a digital world, it excites me to see a concept like this one,” photographer Kevin Dotson wrote in a customer review on Recently’s iTunes page. “I’m an old-school photographer who still likes to actually pick up a photo book with his hands. This app is PERFECT for my desires and needs.”
An app such as this may bring my love of magazines and personal photos together in quite a unique fashion.