Monday musings on Australian literature: Whither magazines?
Are you a magazine reader? I was once a big magazine reader and subscriber – Ms Magazine, the Smithsonian, Choice and Australian Gourmet were my favourites in the 1980s and 1990s. In more recent times, I’ve gravitated to local literary journals like Griffith Review, Meanjin and Kill Your Darlings, but I tend not to subscribe to them. I pick and choose issues, when I feel I have time to read them. Some I buy in print form and some digital.
Australians have long had a reputation for being big magazine readers – but, things are changing, according to The Conversation (“From pig hunting to quilting: why magazines still matter”, by and the ABC (“Australian indie magazines thriving as big publications struggle”, by Emily Stewart). We are still big readers of magazines – though, hmmm, apparently the magazines with the biggest readerships are those produced by our two big supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths. They’re free, which probably helps. But, they don’t represent the main change that’s happening …
Well, actually, it seems that two significant changes are happening. One is the increase in specialised titles, in “niche-interest publications that range from trail bikes to organic gardening”. These magazines still come and go, says The Conversation, but they can survive because of the advertisers:
advertising to a niche rather than a mass audience still makes financial sense and allows these specialised magazines to survive.
Stewart, of the ABC, also reports that “niche titles [with their lower overheads, for a start] have room to thrive”. It’s not easy though. They have, she says, to “think outside the square with their distribution channels to reach their audience, and instead of only using newsagents, Lunch Lady is also available in boutique home wares stores and art galleries”. This seeking out of “niche” distribution outlets is probably something that is easier for a small, and therefore more flexible, publisher to do?
The other change relates to print versus digital. Many magazines, as you probably know, offer print and digital versions, while others offer one or the other, depending on their knowledge of their clientele. Those that offer both versions use them in different ways. Sometimes the print and digital versions replicate each other, sometimes they contain different content. Sometimes, placing some digital content online is used as a teaser to draw readers in. Sometimes you have to subscribe to the whole magazine, while other times you can purchase individual articles. The digital domain offers publishers so many options for reaching their readers.
Griffith Review, for example, offers some of the content of their current issue online – but other articles are only available by subscription or can be purchased individually. The Conversation writes that
It’s tempting to say that we’re in a time of transition from old (print) to new (digital) technology, and that paper will eventually disappear.
The reality is the opposite. Newer magazines like Frankie, an Australian title popular among young women, and Collective, which tackles anything from business to lifestyle and culture, are thriving and selling in print in numbers that rival mainstream women’s magazines.
I love this, I love it because it tells us once again that all those doomsayers who, when a new technology arrives, proclaim the death of the previous technology – remember those claims that television would be the death of cinema? – whereas in fact, new technologies tend to offer more choices, more ways of doing things that suit different needs. It takes time for us all to work out how we want to use new technologies versus old ones, but work it out we usually do. (Of course, some technologies never do come back but in general, I’d argue, doomsaying is not a useful approach to handling change.)
Anyhow, The Conversation goes on to say that
New titles like contemporary women’s magazine Womankind, literary journal The Lifted Brow and Archer, which explores sexuality, gender and identity, are emerging every month – not just in Australia but globally. It is a response to digital overload and distraction – a way to slow down and focus on a beautifully designed, collectible object.
They conclude that the magazine industry “continues to evolve” and that this “evolution is tied to technological change, as it always has been”. But they suggest there’s more to it, proposing that the industry is “also tied to the desire for what political scientist Benedict Anderson famously called the imagined community.” (Nice!) In other words, while social media supports our need to feel part of a group, “magazines offer … an immersion in a carefully curated space made by experts who share your interests … even if that might be babes and boars!”
So, do you read magazines – and if so, what sorts of magazines do you read, and in what form do you read them?