Master Manufacturer: The Death of an Editor?
Print’s fatal flaw is that it is wasteful by any environmental measure. The gravest problem is the newsstand, but even subscriber copies carry a carbon burden. We’ve cut trees and released greenhouse gases to print them, while screen displays require far fewer resources. Shouldn’t print be permitted to croak to save the planet?
To a degree, the honest answer is yes. Just as there’s no reason to print phone directories, there’s no reason to print certain magazines. If it can be done better on screen, it shouldn’t be in print. This doesn’t mean that all magazines need to disappear, only that publications must justify their use of printing.
Some of the criteria crucial for print are: reflective treatment of subject matter; powerful visuals; a need for consistent, accurate color reproduction; a large format; long-form writing; an audience disinclined or unable to use screens; tactile elements, including advertiser gimmicks; coverage of an inherently serial topic; and presentations that rely on graphic juxtaposition.
As physical objects, magazines are tremendously satisfying. At their best, they are visual feasts that are both sequential (with pages we can turn at will) and spatial (with images that are, perceptually at least, larger and more beautiful than screens offer). There’s no need to bury all of them. But there is a need to evolve them into products that truly belong off the screen and in your hand—fewer titles, but ones that have honed their message to a medium that makes paper essential.
Are magazines objects or memberships? Great magazines give readers a sense of community and a sense of self. They are sources of identity. When it works, editor and reader connect. But that connection is changing today, and fewer people are defining themselves through the magazines they read. They’re veering away because other media are beckoning, and because other media treat the very idea of mediation differently.