Why We Can’t Get Magazines Out of our Blood

“I recently had coffee with a new acquaintance who runs a web design firm. When she mentioned she’d like to start a magazine, my first impulse—as a former magazine editor—was to tell her she’s crazy,” writes Gail Reitenbach of Right Hand Communications. “But I didn’t. She’s not crazy; she’s just passionate about the world of design.”

Yep, we see that passion alive and well, and probably a lot of people think we’re a bit crazy too. That’s fine. There’s something extraordinarily rewarding about working with magazines that is hard to define.

She gets it.

“Despite perennial handwringing about the fate of print magazines, the best-run brands continue to thrive, and new ones are born each year,” she notes. “The tally of new print magazine titles for 2017 was 326, according to Mr. Magazine, the trademarked alter ego of industry analyst Samir Husni. That’s a lot of love for, and commitment to, expanding the universe of magazines.”

So what exactly is it that makes the idea of “publishing a magazine” so irresistible to so many of us? Reitenbach has a few theories.

For one, magazines give us glimpses into idealized worlds. “I’ll likely never own a waterfront cabin, especially as I’m a mountain rather than a water lover, but I still enjoy the aesthetic of Coastal Living; I find the freshness of whitewashed wood and ocean-hued upholstery comforting—even though those design ideas aren’t a strong match for Santa Fe, where I live,” she explains.

She also believes that we can all use a break from reality, and magazines help us see things in a positive light. “Whether you’re looking at consumer, trade, or association titles, odds are the stories between the covers are mostly positive and aspirational. (Have you ever read an alumni magazine article about how a beautiful, stellar college student became a failure in every aspect of post-graduate life?),” she asks.

Point taken, of course, but I would argue that magazines also offer a deeper dive, rather than a spin, on reality, often shining the spotlight on places we’d rather not look.

Either way, they provide satisfying coverage, delivering information in the “optimal package of informative, enjoyable, and timely content,” Reitenbach she explains. Of course, this is thanks in large part to the careful curation, which digital has completely abandoned.

“Who hasn’t gotten lost in the digital rabbit hole, chasing affordable landscaping ideas or informed perspective on the latest political firestorm? We value instant access to multiple digital options, but we also relax and embrace the limits of the printed page when we trust a magazine to publish the best material within its purview,” she notes.

Okay, so that does a pretty decent job of explaining why readers love magazines, but what about the people who create them? What drives that passion? For Reitenbach, it comes down to the relationship you have with your publication.

“Though deadlines are unrelenting—making extended vacations virtually impossible for the content crew of a monthly, the most common frequency—the silver lining is that there’s always another issue. Maybe the scoop you were hoping to run on the cover fell through or the compulsory haste to make the printer’s deadline led to an embarrassing typo. At least you have a chance to redeem yourself and the marriage—I mean, magazine—with the next issue, and if the error was substantive, you can run a correction,” she notes.

No one I know goes into magazines because it’s easy, or fast, or wildly lucrative. It’s a challenging, grinding process to get a magazine out into the world. Yes, people are making money doing it, don’t get me wrong, but I doubt that’s the overriding reason for most title launches.

It’s about passion, and persistence, and the sheer joy of ink on paper.