To start with a statement. Modern society is perpetuating an insatiable drive for innovation and new features in the digital world. This demand shows no signs of slowing down, but is change always the best course of action? In the magazine market, let us indulge ourselves for a moment in musing about what may come in the next ten years — more video content, better audio capabilities, personalised integrated ads, compatibility with new technology such as VR, etc. It is easy to become excited by these ideas, just for the sheer novelty factor, but in reality, the discussion would benefit from everyone taking a step back and viewing the history of the magazine afresh.
Think of a magazine, any magazine, print or digital; what is the first thing that comes to mind? The front cover, right? Think Vogue. That iconic choice of font, the recurring layout, the photography. The cover is the entryway to your favourite periodical. Once you’re beyond the cover, then you’re reading the content, which is the flesh and blood of any magazine. Without good content a magazine won’t sell subscriptions, that’s a fact. Magazines can import as many gimmicks and new features as they like, but without consistent, high-quality content they will not survive. The point is that there exists a core set of principles which define and constitute a magazine. These principles are timeless and should not, and likely will not be forsaken for new gadgets. For example, we have long had the capability to import videos into digital magazines, but it remains an uncommon practice. Why?
Well, to put it simply, they’re not needed. That is not to say that digital is the enemy. There have been many amazing features added to magazines in recent decades that have only been possible because of the development of new technology. New audio capabilities and text-reading technology have been used to develop tools that assist disabled persons in accessing magazines. This text-reading software also means that archives can be searched by keyword, which in turn allows the indexing of the content, increasing discoverability and usability in one fell swoop. Citing and sharing articles via social media has never been easier, creating a self-sustaining marketing to attract new subscribers. You will have noticed by now that none of those features alter the content of the magazine in any way, they solely facilitate the reading and distribution of the magazine.
Commercially, perhaps the two most important changes have been the digitisation of archived issues and the development of dedicated apps for magazines. Most periodicals now have their own apps and/or digital version. This portability has opened up a brand new market for magazines, as well as allowing longtime subscribers the freedom to read their favourite magazine wherever they are. Working in tandem with this is the increasing desire for old, archived issues which have been gathering dust for years in libraries and private collections. Scanning technology has meant that magazine owners have been able to bring the past into the present. This has hugely increased the value of magazines as academic resources and as unique windows for our cultural history.
To conclude, there is clearly a digital presence for magazines. Yet there are still print loyalists who have not embraced the demand for online resources. Signs indicate that publishers who build their digital archives and make them available to current readers and subscribers are making their magazines into digital survivors. Many magazines will be lost because they have not invested time and money into making the digital archive work now. It is a matter of foresight, publishers should always keep one eye on the future. A reactionary policy is a dangerous game, and even with a reactionary policy, publishers must realise that we are now living in a digital world. By crystallising their archives publishers would be guaranteeing their content is available for future generations, and as previously said, preservation of good content is the paramount aim of digital publishing.