On Magazines: Our Brand Promise

[responsive]stack_america_lg[/responsive]The magazine industry is having a bit of an identity crisis. As well-respected industry heavy hitter Bob Sacks [aka BoSacks] recently wrote his article “What’s the Magazine Industry’s Brand Identity” he points out the challenge of defining the brand of this evolving industry, even wondering if it’s possible to do so.

“Is defining the brand of the magazine industry even possible in this day and age given we are no longer beholden to a single deliverable substrate and deliver our product in hundreds of ways?” BoSacks asks.

It’s a valid question, and he raises some excellent points.

When considering your brand promise – whether your own company’s or your industry’s – you have to define what sets you apart.

“What is the promise of the magazine media industry that can’t be replicated by any other industry and therefore separates us from every other maker and distributer of words and ideas? Or are all makers of words and ideas that contain pictures part of the magazine business?” BoSacks asks.

Magazine publishers themselves add to the confusion as they rebrand themselves as media brands, publishing on a variety of platforms with many even eschewing print in favor of digital alternatives.

In thinking about my own answer to the branding dilemma, I come back to BoSack’s salient question – what is the promise of a print magazine? What can’t be replicated by digital platforms and therefore sets us apart?

For some of the answer, let’s look at the music business, another industry that has seen radical evolution of late. BoSacks claims that “music is still music. It may be streamed, burnt onto a CD, or stored in an MP3. The end product is as it always has been: something to listen to.”

Yes, the music is still the music, that much is true.

Yet a musician creates what is known as an “album” (regardless of media) by carefully curating the music, editing and ordering the song track selection to tell the story of the whole. Anyone who has ever listened to Astral Weeks start to finish understands that Mr. Morrison’s aim was to create something larger than simply a collection of songs.

Meanwhile you can download one track of the album…yes, that bit of music is still the same…but without the context of the entire collection you lose much of the artistic experience of the whole…the cover art, the liner notes, and the less tangible but just as important flow of emotions. The editorial production side of the music industry faces a branding problem much like that of the magazine industry.

I see magazines in the same kind of larger experience. Yes, I can read an article on my tablet or scroll through some images on my smartphone. But without the experience of the entire issue…the point/counterpoint of varying viewpoints, the crescendo from intros to feature stories, the juxtaposition of editorial and art, the way the ads support the editorial, I lose so much of the overall story.

BoSacks is absolutely right that the magazine industry is struggling to redefine itself. He poignantly asks “When the digital dust settles, who are we and what is our promise?”

It is this organic whole, I believe, that defines this thing we call a “magazine.” Newsfeed, websites, content apps and social streams have their own promises and their own stories to tell. To me, it is the combined effects editorial fluency, graphic cohesiveness and quality print production that define our promise to our readers.