Don't stop the press

I like magazines. Well, actually I like the magazine format and I enjoy reading certain magazines.

In fact, I have been a lifelong reader of magazines. From childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood I have been a reader of, and subscriber, to magazines. Art, design, architecture, IT, current affairs, literature, film, music - you will find magazines dedicated to all of these and more scattered around my house. It's really no surprise to me that I ended up writing for a living.

Radio I love, in television I see so much potential, newspapers are required reading (and fascinating design artefacts) but it is in magazines that I see the most scope for creativity. So sad am I that I am proud to own issue one of Mondo 2000 (or issue seven of Reality Hackers, if you like) despite the fact that it is pretty grim in comparison with later editions (for the record, it's full of unmarked so-called 'advertorial' - always a sign that you don't care about your readers).

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm particularly enamoured of the publishing industry - I'm not insane, after all. But I do like to read a good magazine.

Recently I discovered a copy of Res at the local 24-hour newsagent, hidden behind Shooting Lady Life Times or some such.

A ha, thought I, another magazine that I can read and, perhaps in the future, contribute to. Not so. Res has left this mortal coil, temporarily at least.

I presume that it will reappear in a new form, probably as an online magazine, after all, that seems to be the way things are going these days.

And here we get to the nub of my meandering argument: publications continue to embrace the Internet with gay abandon. Even your very own favourite creative magazine offers its content on the Web.

Beyond magazine Web sites, though, the so-called 'digital edition' is becoming increasingly important.

Advances in software promise to make the digital reading experience almost as good as that of a paper magazine - or at least a bit less irritating.

Newspapers are already ahead of the game. Even the humble Northern Pen, a weekly newspaper serving Labrador and Newfoundland, is available as a download. OK, as a simple password protected PDF it's not as flashy as the Guardian's digital edition (or the new New York Times) but it's there nonetheless, bringing news of fishing in the North Atlantic to expat Newfies around the globe.

Zino, meanwhile, ploughs on with more up-scale semi-interactive digital publishing including, for example, Digit's sister title Macworld.

Publishers like digital editions for a number of reasons: Firstly, they dramatically cut costs - no more of that expensive printing and no need to be concerned about Royal Mail's obscene postal rates change (which could well spell the end for large-format magazines).

Secondly, they are subscription based and publishers like to keep the circulation regular.

Thirdly, they count towards the ABC figure just as a printed magazine does.

Fourthly, no more dealing with the newsstand distribution mafia. (This one's a biggie.)

Oh, and did I mention cutting costs?

Me, I just don't like them. I fear that they are driven entirely by the desire to slash costs and, in my opinion, that way lies madness. Of course there are exceptions to the rule - especially online - but, for my money, if a publication is free, it's probably complete crap.

Between free Web sites and paid-for digital editions, something does seem to be changing in how we consume written media.

The editor of an architecture magazine recently said to me: "I don't buy newspapers anymore, I just read them online."

"OK," I said, "But how would you feel if all of your readers did likewise?"

He didn't answer; instead he just stared at me. I think he was getting a premonition of how he would feel if my little scenario played itself out: he'd feel unemployed.

As a journalist I'm never pleased to see a title fold (well, perhaps with one or two exceptions) but with all manner of things eating away at journalists' paltry salaries the death of the interactive PDF title Home Computer Magazine at least did not make me feel sick. (Then again, I do like independent publishers and was rather displeased to see one go under.)

So: another journalist whinging about declining standards and pay - stop the press. Yes, but there's more to it that that.

Design. Sure, a digital magazine can be a perfect replica of a magazine and it can even offer interactive features, but reading off a screen simply isn't the same - and unless there is a major jump in screen technology it never will be.

Think of the joy of designing, or even just gawping at, a good magazine spread. On screen, so used as we are to squinting at all manner of things, it's just not the same.

Maybe I'm just a walking, talking anachronism but until the sad day comes that my favourite magazines start migrating away from print I intend to cherish them in all of their maddening beauty and tactile glory.

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...