Do Magazine Publishers Have an Inferiority Complex?

“This is not a pipe.”

Peter Houston begins his insightful article in The Media Briefing calling to mind Rene Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe.

“Magritte’s point is it’s not a pipe, it’s a representation of a pipe,” Houston explains. “He set up the disconnect between the picture and the words to spark a dissonance that would, hopefully, start a conversation about how images and art work.”

It works in surrealist art; does in work in the publishing industry? Not so well, according to Houston. He believes that magazine publishers now calling themselves “magazine media brands” is confusing at best, and doublespeak at its core. He also thinks that maybe it stems from more than a little insecurity in a changing industry.

“Rather than highlight the fact that the majority of magazine publishers have enthusiastically extended the boundaries of their portfolios, the addition of the ‘Media’ qualifier displays a stark insecurity around the analog foundations of the business,” he writes.

“It creates the sense that being ‘just’ a magazine publisher isn’t good enough,” Houston continues. “It suggests that a re-branding is necessary because admitting any connection to old-school magazine publishing is shameful.”

That seems a bit harsh, but in reality, publishers made valiant efforts to distance themselves from their print-centric business models when things got a little crazy 10 years ago.

And in the move to embrace a digital business model, many seemed to forget that their bread is buttered in paper and ink.

As Houston explains, embracing the new channels is fine, but “the ‘Media’ should be secondary to magazine craft, skills held by people that made magazines long before they had to think about multimedia.”

“I don’t expect ‘Magazine Media’ to go away, but I would love it if sometime soon we could just talk about magazines again and take it as read that includes all the platforms and content formats that magazine publishers routinely work with, and all those still to come.”

Yes, let’s talk about magazines again.