The Industry Asks … Again … What’s a Magazine?

Is a magazine essentially a distribution vehicle for a publisher’s content? The debate came to the forefront several years ago when publishers started using the term “magazine media brand” to describe their organizations.

As I said at the time, this idea of a “magazine media” company may work for brands that try new channels to distribute their content. But I don’t believe for a moment that this content is a “magazine” simply because it’s published by what is – or used to be — a magazine company.

The debate continues, as Kayleigh Barber demonstrates in Folio:.

“During the second annual ModMag NYC summit last week, organized by the London-based magazine shop and creative studio magCulture,” Barber writes, “creatives from across the industry attempted to answer one question: What is a magazine?

“Founder Jeremy Leslie led off the day by stating that he is open-minded about what makes a magazine,” she continues, “especially in this day and age with all of the ‘contemporary concepts’ that have been brought to the market.”

These new concepts have evolved far beyond the idea of a digital edition that replicates a print magazine. Brands continue to define “magazine” in a mix of media, like Douglas McGray’s Pop-Up Magazine concept, where “magazine” becomes live, one-off performance art.

“Before my friends and I started all of this, I thought I knew what a magazine was,” said McGray. “In part because I didn’t think that hard about it. Now in the last five years I’ve thought a lot about it, and now I have no idea what all a magazine might be, and I really like that.”

Other brands label their digital content as distinct from the actual magazine, but the lines are often blurry when it comes to design consistency.

“Most revenue comes from our print magazine, then again, most of our views are online, so it’s a riddle that every publisher and designer I think faces,” said The New Yorker’s creative director Nicholas Blechman. Referring to the magazine’s iconic cartoons, he said “these have to live online, so I have to look at not only what it’s going to look like in the structure of the magazine, but how it’s going to live on your phone and on the screen.”

“It’s all evolving; it’s all changing very fast and changing for all publications. Everyone is looking to everyone else to see how they’ve negotiated the difference between these two different mediums and it’s kind of fascinating,” Blechman said. “When I think of the internet, I can’t help but think that it’s this machine that takes a magazine and just spits it out and repackages it in so many different mediums and formats,” he continued.

It is still a magazine once it comes out of the online meat grinder, or processed into live performance art, or other media? It’s an ongoing debate, one that will continue to fascinate and puzzle those of us in the industry. Yet for my money, a print magazine is much more than a distribution vehicle. It’s a tangible, cohesive and complete experience in and of itself. Ink on paper – the way I’ll always view magazines.