Speaking of magazines, does anybody read them anymore? Which is to say that while I’m sure there are plenty of folks who continue to buy, subscribe to and read traditional periodicals, I realized recently that I’m not among them.
The other day, I was over at a friend’s house and was surprised to see that she had copies of Monocle and Good Magazine on her coffee table. Well, I wasn’t surprised by that so much as I was surprised by how interesting I found them, at least for the short spell in which I was flipping through their pages as my friend and I chatted. I have complaints about the art direction in Monocle, but between those two, I can’t deny that compelling stuff is happening in magazine design these days. Add just about any given week’s issue of New York Magazine to the mix, and you have a pretty good survey of some of the most absorbing design happening anywhere. The problem is that they’re like lipstick on a pig: some of the best design being done today is being wasted on magazine content.
This is the reason I found myself unexpectedly enjoying the act of flipping through those issues: I just don’t think of periodicals as a medium I want to spend my time on. Aside from the work of adventurous art directors like Chris Dixon at New York, I find magazines really boring. To be sure, I’m a faithful reader of The New Yorker, but that’s the only rag whose arrival I anticipate with eagerness, and the only one with which I’ll spend any meaningful amount of time. Given just about any other magazine, I can for all intents and purposes consume its contents in about ten minutes, tops. Even the very best of most magazine writing often strikes me as distant and outdated. (I admit this includes even the often excellent articles that run in The New York Times Magazine, but then I don’t really even consider it a magazine, but rather an extension of the newspaper.)
I used to enjoy magazines tremendously; I used to spend hours parked at the newsstands, just poring over the latest issues, and I used to feel that they offered a wonderful, four-color window onto the world. But, truth be told, the lion’s share of my recreational non-fiction reading happens online now. It’s not just that the diversity of content and the immediacy of that content is so much richer online, it’s the fact that there’s so much more one can do with content when it lives online.
By extension, you might construe this rant as a kind of dismissal of newspapers as well — probably an imprudent opinion for me to hold given who my my employers are. But perhaps because I have such a strong predisposition towards The New York Times as an important and vital daily product, there’s something much more substantive about newspapers, to me. Whether it’s the fact that a fresh newspaper was printed within the last twenty-four hours or, frankly, because the Times offers the best journalism anywhere, I can easily get lost in any given day’s newspaper. By contrast, I find the shallow depths of most magazines to be so fleetingly engaging that I don’t bother with them. Even if they’re designed as beautifully as Monocle, Good or New York.