To briefly introduce ourselves, Exact Editions is an online platform that works with numerous publishers to produce the digital versions of their magazines. So we like to think we know a thing or two about why they are so important to society.
For over a decade now, we have advocated the strength and uniqueness of magazines compared to other sources of information. A large part of this has involved building digital archives of immense cultural value. Many of these archives speak for themselves, e.g. Gramophone and Sight & Sound, because of the depth, history, and quality of the specialised content. The role of Exact Editions is to facilitate audience growth and introduce new revenue streams by making this content more accessible through search functionality, app access, and other technical features.
So, why magazines? What makes them so special?
As you are reading this blog, I will assume that most of you are users of social media, whether that be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Reddit. Many of you will find the latest news via these sites, from specific individuals, or global brands such as the BBC, Al Jazeera or Sky News. There are many benefits to the increased availability and freedom to information; but, there are also several downsides. Take Twitter as an example – it is exceptionally easy to create an ‘echo chamber’ around yourself by following only those whose views align with your own. Many of us do this unconsciously without considering the consequences. Now, let’s say that you do endeavour to seek out a variety of news sources — where do you start? The sheer volume of information being generated every second is enough to make heads spin. This oversaturation has multiple effects; increasing the use of buzzwords in articles to attract attention, reducing the attention span of readers, and lowering the quality of journalism in favour of quantity.
Magazines address this problem perfectly. Magazines crystallise the culture of the time.
They are released on a regular, predictable basis, affording them a nimbleness unmatched by book publishers and an orderliness absent in social media. This regularity also ensures that magazines retain a contemporary focus whilst offering prudent commentary, rather than luring in readers with reactionary headlines. The editors act as guardians of information, they filter through the white noise to find the important voices and events. They then knit these stories together to form cohesive, well-informed arguments that challenge readers to think rationally and deeply. Not only is this crucial in the modern world where we fight against a tide of fake and fleeting news; it is also useful for preserving the defining moments and influential figures of each generation for the future. Combine this with the growing accessibility of complete archives of magazines and you realise that magazines provide us with a reliable thread back through history. Think of them as Ariadne, offering you, Theseus, a spool of string as you make your way through the labyrinth of the internet in search of dependable news.
Why read magazines to find news when we have newspapers? I hear you cry. Well, with political allegiances rife and visible, many newspapers are no longer able to legitimately claim a stance of neutrality. Magazines largely escape this as they are typically focused on specialist subject areas. This sharpening of the lens affords them the freedom to explore topics without having to worry about the overarching views of the brand they represent or the political view they advocate. This can work both ways; for example, Geographical benefits from viewing issues in terms of their global relevance, whereas Tate Etc. is focussed purely on the interpretation of art.
*Of course, there are political magazines out there with agendas, and politics filters down into almost every aspect of life. However, magazines do operate in their own journalistic sphere which is less subject to outside influences and more content-oriented. The point is that although magazines inevitably interact with and are influenced by politics; they are not shaped by politics.
Again, I would also like to return to the problem of ‘echo chambers’. By and large, newspapers appeal to those who agree with the news they publish. Only the most dedicated follower of the news will actively purchase different newspapers to widen their perspective. Magazine readers, on the other hand, are often forced to chew on articles that don’t necessarily align with their political or cultural views. This encourages a broadening of the mind which is healthy for readers.
Style / Design
This one is simple. We all love great visuals and design. Our brains are hardwired to enjoy neat edges, fancy fonts, and stunning double-page spreads. Magazines offer visceral imagery that is missing in books and academic journals. There is, however, more to design than meets the eye. Photos and infographics have the power to take the reader to the depths of the Amazon Rainforest, or succinctly explain the economic collapse of Venezuela, they encourage engagement by making content relatable and easier to digest.
In some fields, design isn’t a luxury, it is essential. Magazines that cover topics such as; modern art, architecture, ceramics, and fashion are obvious supporters of the magazine format. But the need for style stretches far beyond the obvious – think poetry, think science, think business. Magazines afford publishers the freedom to be creative and to devise new ways to inform their readers. With digital technology now able to replicate complete archives with pinpoint accuracy, magazines are more accessible than ever, and they should be recognised and used as reliable sources for subject-specific news.