Despite magazines facing strong headwinds throughout 2018, publishers should remain confident about the long-term future of the format. Indeed, I would like to propose three compelling reasons for such optimism among the next generation of the magazine industry’s publishers and entrepreneurs.
1. The commercial tide in content publishing is moving strongly in the direction of subscription revenues, and magazines have already shown they can attract digital subscribers. Subscriber-supported content is working in many neighbouring fields (newspapers: The New York Times; movies and TV: Netflix; music: Spotify and Apple) and just as importantly there are many ancillary services growing to support these developments, Stripe, Apple Pay, Patreon, Kickstarter. The broader infrastructure that supports subscription publishing maybe just as important as the simple lesson that each generation learns from experience: high-quality information is often not free.
2. Quality magazines tend to have a history. This ‘history’ is – for most magazines – evident through their reputation, through their accumulated subscriber numbers, and through their archive of back issues. In the traditional model for print distribution the value and richness of archives is one clear advantage from the evolution of magazines to digital formats. The ‘history’ of a magazine becomes especially important when we compare the way subscribers relate to digital magazines with the way those same consumers relate to social media. With social media, immediacy, relevance, topicality, and connectedness are of primary importance. Digital magazines can create a point of difference by offering their subscribers a deeper and more focused content connection. Certainly less viral than Twitter or Reddit, but almost certainly more reliable. In this context: history, as reputation, subscribing audience and archived content become sources of differentiation and strength.
3. Magazines are no longer in the main focus of technological information. This might seem to be a disadvantage to those who fondly remember when digital magazines were to be swept into a radically different type of experience by digital platforms. At the time of the launch of the iPhone and then the iPad, it seemed that digital magazines might undergo some completely transformative revolutionary change. But such revolutionary enthusiasm was soon quenched or squelched. Apps were not the future, but at best a new form of digital access. Magazines would not be iPad-shaped, though iPads and similar devices will clearly be used for magazine enjoyment. Magazine publishers no longer expect a wave of technology to pick up the magazine format, like a seismic tsunami and drop the user and the media format in a completely new space. That the next wave of technological innovation, whether it be AI, blockchains or augmented reality, will not be completely disruptive for magazines is perhaps mildly reassuring. Yet it is also encouraging that these evolving technologies will create important opportunities and new niches for digital media.
Clearly, we can only speculate on how digital magazines will have evolved in the next generation. But I think we should be confident that the best magazines will not only survive but thrive. And I am sure that the reason that they survive will be that they are still recognisably magazines. Which will mean that they are a pleasure to pick up (even when we are in virtual reality), that they are worth the annual subscription (paid via our implanted money-wallet $chip), that they are beautifully designed, gorgeously illustrated- albeit voice-activated. I would not bet on it, but I think there is still a good chance that they will still have front covers, tables of contents, double-page spreads and editorials. Magazines will still be recognisably magazines.
Some possibilities for a front cover in 2035;
- Voice-activated front cover
- Augmented Reality image of star on front cover (3d in viewer glasses)
- Teaser headline links directly to page with article
- Front cover is offered in content block-chain that Flipboard-Style syndicates all
Adam Hodgkin, Co-Founder, Exact Editions