Guest Column : 9 Things I've Learned About Magazines by Blogging
A publishing CEO and longtime blogger dispels several magazine myths and offers an introspective look at the industry.August 2009 By Rex Hammock
Back then, I never imagined that one day I’d be described as “a magazine publishing blogger” or a “CEO blogger” or a “media blogger.” For a decade before blogging came along, my company and I had been involved in a wide array of online community platforms like e-mail listservs and different types of forums. As I had never been called a “forum-er” or “listserv-er” or, for that matter, an e-mailer or telephoner, I never suspected that using a blog would be anything more than just another platform to share information with a few dozen people.
So I was shocked the first time that someone at a magazine publishing-related event said to me, “Hey, you’re that blogger.” I didn’t know if he meant it as an accusation or a compliment. I still don’t.
My blog was started long before marketers discovered them, so I wasn’t weighed down by the responsibility of knowing I was supposed to accomplish anything, “branding-wise,” with a blog. “Monetization” was not a word ever used in a sentence with the word “weblog” back then. Like the show “Seinfeld,” my blog was about nothing. Therefore, I could make it about anything. And since I’m in the custom publishing business and a big part of my professional day is spent creating and publishing magazines, it is easy to understand why a significant percentage of the nearly 9,000 posts I’ve written over the past decade have been about the magazine industry.
No doubt, you’ve missed most of those 9,000 posts. Probably, you’ve missed all of them. So to give you a glimpse of what I’ve had to say about magazines over the past decade, here’s a run-through of some of the recurring observations and discoveries I’ve made and shared:
1. Magazines and blogs are made for each other. Some blogs and new-media companies compete for breaking news and advertising dollars with old-line media companies that publish magazines. However, I can’t conceive of two media, as a medium or media platform, that are more complementary than a magazine and weblog. Blogs can break stories; magazines can explain stories. Magazines can survey and analyze issues; blogs can archive as much data as necessary to back up your analysis. A blog can fill in many gaps that a magazine schedule leaves wide open.
2. People in the magazine industry are consistently inarticulate in their attempts to describe the qualities of the magazine format, especially in comparison to the Web. One of the strangest reasons I’ve heard magazine people suggest the medium will survive forever is this: It’s the perfect format for bathroom reading. It would be funny, if I didn’t hear it used so often. Note to magazine people: Bathroom reading material is not very high on the media food chain. While the magazines my company publishes may, on occasion, be read there, I can assure you it is not the venue for which any of them are designed.
3. No one will ever collect NationalGeographic.com. OK, here is my suggestion to those in the magazine industry who haven’t figured out how to compare magazines with the Web (see point #2). The magazines we love are not merely things we read and enjoy; they are expressions of who we are. We display them on coffee tables and desks the way people wear designer labels on clothes or purchase one model of car over another. People collect magazines, trade them and display them on decorative racks or in frames hung on the wall. Magazines provide us with mementos of our life’s journey. They allow us to savor our passions and save special moments. The magazines we love are so important to us, they make us feel guilty to consider throwing them away. The Web is a wonderful thing when you want to drink information from a fire hose. But the magazines people love are like bottles of fine wine: Even if you have to wait a little before opening it, there’s something a bit exciting about the anticipation.
4. The people who say print is dead don’t actually mean print is dead. People who write blog headlines and book titles have the need to boil down complex issues into catch phrases, so they write stuff like “Five more signs that print is dead.” However, if you actually read what people write under those “print is dead” headlines, you’ll find they’re talking about a business model and not a publishing format. Also, I’ve never heard of anyone who writes about the death of print turning down a book offer.
5. Successful magazines succeed for three reasons. They appeal to a narrowly focused audience of people who share a deep, personal or professional passion. They have content that is required reading if you want to belong to the community of individuals who share that passion. They are published by people who understand the power of aesthetics and good design.
6. More magazines play a role in a non-publishing business model than in a publishing business model. Just think of all those alumni magazines, association magazines, corporate employee magazines. They exist to support a business model that has nothing to do with advertising and circulation revenue. The “magazine business” is not the same as “the magazine business model.”
7. A digital magazine will never replace a printed magazine. While I’m an advocate of e-books and e-publications and all things e-ish, I don’t believe the best use of new media is to replicate old media. Digital magazines can be a powerful “push” medium if they utilize their unique capabilities and become something that offers an experience beyond—or at least different from—what is possible in the printed version of a magazine. But don’t think you can slap a combustible engine on a buggy and end up with a Lamborghini.
8. The magazine format can contain content that is “journalism” or it can contain content that’s anything but journalism. Blogging about magazines has made me appreciate the vast diversity of magazines. Before there was the Web, the closest thing to it was a library magazine section or a big-city magazine newsstand. But those just scratched the surface of what’s out there. I’ve been a part of many blogger debates that never would have taken place had their originator understood that “magazines” aren’t just about serious news and aren’t all published in New York by giant companies.
9. Another thing I’ve learned from blogging: Make lists end on a random number other than 10.
Rex Hammock is founder and CEO of Hammock Inc., a Nashville-based custom media company. His firm publishes magazines and manages a wide array of digital media for national associations and corporate clients. He is the creator and “chief juggler” of the large-scale wiki-model project, SmallBusiness.com. He currently is serving his third term on the board of American Business Media. He blogs at RexBlog.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at the easy-to-remember username: @r.