Listen up, magazine publishers

OK, this is a rant. I admit it. I’m getting older, crankier, and less tolerant of 1) stupidity, 2) consumerism, and 3) other things that annoy me greatly.

But I have no intention of going gently into the night, so I will rage as it pleases me, and it does occasionally please me very much.

The topic on my mind today is publishing and reading. I’m disturbed by the continuing news that fewer and fewer people actually sit down and read things like books. This has nothing to do with the fact that I write and everything to do with the fact that I think. I want other people to think, too, not just swallow whatever sound bite is being handed out at the moment. And I believe I owe a great deal of my ability to think to the fact that I have been a voracious reader all of my life.

But what’s really bringing on this rant is what I see as a disturbing trend in periodical (magazine AND newspaper) publishing. It seems to me that this trend actually discourages readers at a time when most publications are wracking their brains to figure out how to keep/increase subscribers.

I first noted it with Vanity Fair.  When my subscription was running out, I almost didn’t renew it. The reason was their continuing burying of the table of contents in a rash of photo ads. In one notable issue, the first page of the TOC was on something like page 46!

The really stupid thing about this is that VF’s photo ads are so beautiful that I would probably look at them anyway if they were scattered appropriately throughout the magazine. But having to search for the TOC is so annoying that I almost gave the magazine up.

Then I realized that every issue had at least one article that I was really glad I read, an article that in all likelihood I wouldn’t have seen published elsewhere. So I renewed. But interestingly enough, now I skip those beautiful photo ads and flip through until I find the various TOC pages (they are never adjacent). I dog-ear them, and that’s the end of my attention to the ads.

But now the practice is spreading. Even my beloved New Yorker recently has run several pages of ads before the TOC. At least they keep the multi-page TOC all together. The corker for me was this week’s Sunday NY Times.  In section A (the news section, remember), more than half the pages were devoted to full page advertising. That’s not while I buy the NY Times.

I understand that advertising keeps my prices lower (although $5.00 for a Sunday paper hardly qualifies in my mind as a “bargain”). But I’m also one of those “real readers,” people who actually pay extra money to subscribe to publications that don’t wallow in advertising, publications like The American Scholar, The Hedgehog Review, and Poetry Magazine.

I’m also one of those people who is likely to continue reading and subscribing, at least to publications that don’t annoy me beyond my tolerance level. And it seems to me that publishers are running a real risk of alienating readers who are really the bread-and-butter of their subscription revenues.

Of course this is all driven by the god of Consumerism, the great American religion. But that topic annoys me so much I couldn’t possibly do justice to it here. If you’re still with me this far, I applaud you. I’ll rant separately about consumerism. . .

End of rant. I do feel better now.

10 Responses to “Listen up, magazine publishers”

  1. C.L. Mareydt Says:

    you have taken the step from a ‘consumer’ to a ‘producer’ … but then doesn’t it all end up in the same place? i’m confused … did enjoy your rant & can chirp a few more for you anytime. thanks!

  2. locusbooks Says:

    I take issue with a lot of the same things you do… and I’m a publisher of magazines and books. It can be hard for publishers to find a reasonable balance between content and advertising and it infuriates me to have to pay to buy publications loaded with too many ads and not enough content/pictures. Which is one of the reasons why my mini-magazines don’t carry ads at all.


  3. Barbara Says:

    I have noticed that too, the need to search for the TOC. Some magazines have buried them for years. A TOC is a tool for the reader that we expect to come at the beginning. Whatever disorder occurs elsewhere in a magazine in the scramble to fit in more ads, it’s nice when at least the TOC does what it’s supposed to and appears up front.

  4. taralasch Says:

    I couldn’t help but notice how thin the NY Times this weekend was, now that presumably shopping season has ended… But you are right to mention content besides — or at the expense of ads, as often times it could also use improvement. Some of the stuff that’s being published – less in magazines than in academic periodicals and books – is just dull, it kills interest. Reminds me of Orwell on politics and the English language — many people have just no finesse, or anything to say. You get get totally stupefied without consumerism. The question is how to teach today’s students to read today’s dull writing or ad-ridden publications…

  5. Marianne Says:

    C. L., I’ll try to rant occasionally for you. I’m not sure what you’re confused about, but glad to have you as a reader.

  6. Marianne Says:

    Lotus, my congratulations. Do you have a Web site or some such that lists your publications?

  7. Marianne Says:

    Barbara, a well-laced TOC does seem to contribute to world order, doesn’t it? And there’s darned little of that these days.

  8. Marianne Says:

    Tara, I’ve often wondered about the propensity of academicians to write in the most obscure terms possible. It seems as if they’re writing more to impress each other than to spread a little knowledge in the world. I do, however, like “The American Scholar.” Even the academic articles tend to be written in comprehensible language.

    And thanks for invoking Orwell. If ever there was a time to beware of Newspeak, surely it’s now.

  9. Marianne Says:

    Barbara, sorry for the typo, that should be well-placed, not well-laced. And I haven’t even been imbibing. . .

  10. Marianne Says:

    Correction #2–man, my sinuses are making my stupid today.

    It’s clearly locusbooks, not lotusbooks. I’m not sure who to blame that one on, but I’m feeling too miserable to take responsibility for anything.

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