Now that the hype over Google Plus is fading, it’s worth taking a look at the next great medium. It’s a format that is growing in number and variety, that is fusing cutting-edge design, top-quality writing, well-understood advertising opinions and can’t-beat mobile access. I’m talking, of course, about magazines.
The hyperbole is tongue in cheek, of course, but the promise isn’t. At a time when “print is dead” is considered as much a truism as “Congress is dysfunctional,” magazines are slowly re-establishing themselves as a media form with some distinct advantages. Glossy mags still give writers the space and freedom to write long-form pieces, breaking out of the shorter-is-better trend that defines content on the web. (Go and read “I Want my Prostate Back” or “The Runaway General” if you have any question about the power and draw of excellent storytelling.) And good design remains a hallmark, so much so that much of the “online magazine” technology that’s been rolled out over the past 20 years has set as its goal reproducing what looks so natural on a printed page.
I’m not just spouting old-media nostalgia. The New York Times noted last month that when Google — hardly a company that clings to the technology and assumptions of the past — chose a format for their deep-think exercise, Think Quarterly, they decided to do it as a print magazine (actually, it’s even more old-media: it’s essentially a book). There are nice Google quirks (heat-sensitive end papers), but the overriding logic is inescapable: if you want to publish targeted, deeply analytical stuff, you have to think hard about print.
And Google isn’t the only company betting on magazines. The number of new publications in the sector rose in the first half of the year, with 111 hitting the market. Many of them have titles that highlight their niche nature: Progressive Cattleman, Catfish Alley, Plum Hamptons. But that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to dismiss the endeavors. If new media has taught us anything, it’s that those targeted audiences are the most valuable, and we now live in a world where it’s effective to hit niche audiences with rich, print content.
As I’ve argued before, the future of media isn’t 10 million people reading Sports Illustrated. It’s a 100 people reading a million publications. And with the birth of Catfish Alley and its brethren, we’re closer than ever to that future.