[This fragment is available in an audio version.]

I was cruising through the supermarket when a shopping-cart traffic jam stalled me in front of the “newsstand”. That word is in quotes because most things on offer aren’t news and in fact aren’t magazines in the traditional sense, but single-issue glossies about Princess Diana or Bruce Springsteen or Michelle Obama or Christmas. Anyhow, an awesome cover photo of an owl on the The Atlantic caught my eye; that cover also touted an article about Jack White, whose music I enjoy, so I impulse-bought it. Now I’m thinking about the quality-publishing business model.

Three Atlantic covers
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Three Atlantic Covers

Recent Atlantic issue covers.

I got a couple hours’ reading pleasure for the handful of bucks I spent on dead trees and ink. Here are some of the advantages of a paper magazine:

  1. It’s as light as any product with “Air” in its name.

  2. You can read it on the bus or in the bath or out in bright sunshine.

  3. The color, resolution, and presentation of images is wonderful. Yes, screens and graphics hardware get better and better, but wow, those pictures on that high-quality paper.

  4. The typography is exquisite. Once again, we make progress on screen presentation, but still.

  5. The pages aren’t visually busy. Yes, there are ads around the edges of some and quite a few odd-numbered pages are full-page ads, once again with fabulous composition and color. But those columns of text, they and their surrounding white space, thoughtfully designed, provide a serene reading experience.

  6. You can fold it up and slip it in a vest pocket. Then you take the folded version out again with one hand and read while you use the other to support yourself on a commuter train.

  7. If you’re operating one-handed you can turn the page by sticking your thumb under the next one and performing a graceful wrist-flip.

  8. The text and images stand still! There are no late-displaying ads or graphics pushing the words around while you’re trying to read them.

  9. Nothing asked me whether it could send notifications.

  10. Nothing suggested that I switch to the app.

  11. In fact: No. Popups. Ever.

  12. Drop it all you want, then step on it even, no biggie. Hell, drive over it too!

  13. No battery, no charger, no wires, no plugs.

  14. The speed at which the text refreshes when you turn the page is remarkable.

  15. There were a few ads suggesting tastefully that I subscribe, but none of the raw sweaty desperation of the contemporary Web.

  16. Nobody was tracking me. Well, I guess the credit-card company reported my grocery purchases to, well, someone, but nobody knows which articles and ads I looked at.

  17. No venture-capitalist libertarians are being enriched.

  18. When you’re done, you toss it in the recycling bin.

Wait, am I saying that the Web was a mistake, that we should all go back to dead trees? Not at all. I couldn’t tap on the pretty-decent Jack White article and watch a YouTube of the songs. I couldn’t share a particularly tasty written morsel on Twitter. I had to go to a store to get it. I couldn’t read it in bed without turning a lamp on. I probably could have paid for a couple months’ online subscription to The Atlantic for the newsstand price.

But on balance I was left thinking “This feels like a luxury product.” I can’t think of an obvious analogy… Perhaps the enveloping, focusing hands-on experience of putting a record on the turntable as opposed to a streaming service on the earbuds? Except for, magazines are more convenient, once you’ve gone to the trouble of going to the store for them. Hmmm, I hear rumors you can arrange to have them delivered to your home at regular intervals; must check that option out.

I’m thinking purveyors of print ought seriously to consider luxury-product business strategies.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Cowan (Sep 21 2022, at 20:02)

Well, let's look at the magazine's pricing. For US$70 a year you get full digital access. (Unfortunately for them, you can get full digital access for $0 by using an alternative browser like Dillo.) To get digital and print both, the price is $80, so they are seriously underrating what you are calling the luxury-product factor. But for $100, you get print *and* ad-free digital plus podcasts and other digital things.

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From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Sep 21 2022, at 20:14)

It's interesting that paper magazines are offering more and more specialized niche products while the web seems to move in the consolidation direction. Specialization is another indicator of them becoming a luxury item, similar to the work of tailors or dressmakers.

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From: Tay (Sep 22 2022, at 16:36)

The challenge is that much of the value for media is in that it correlates behavior across large groups of people. While certain types of news may be able to adopt the luxury model, other important types like local news are somewhat antithetical.

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From: Paul Stusiak (Sep 22 2022, at 17:38)

Best line I read today is your "No venture-capitalist libertarians are being enriched." Thanks. That put a smile on my face.

Also in support of point 18 is that you can pass it along to a friend or you can upcycle before recycling as bedding for a small rodent. Try that with your tablet.

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From: Troy McConaghy (Sep 22 2022, at 19:04)

You might enjoy reading Isaac Asimov's essay "The Ancient and the Ultimate" (1973). He made many similar observations there.

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From: Aaron (Sep 22 2022, at 19:31)

> I couldn’t tap on the pretty-decent Jack White article and watch a YouTube of the songs.

You describe this as a feature lost. But it’s a bug lost, really. That ability to tap is not an “ability” but a distraction.

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From: Steve McNally (Sep 23 2022, at 13:48)

These excellent highlights of your cover-to-cover experience all rely on the smart people at The Atlantic creating that July/August 2022 Issue. Writers, editors, design, layout, marketers crafted the experience. You added them as curators of your news filter for a couple of hours.

> I couldn’t share a particularly tasty written morsel on Twitter.

Writing a tasty morsel with pen-on-paper is immediate, gratifying, and effective for follow-up later. Tearing out a page of heavy magazine or newspaper stock as reminder to find Jack White on YT is even more luxurious.

Luxury print purveyors who communicate highlights like yours and the smart thinking that goes into the experience have ongoing opportunities to get added to more peoples' news filters.

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September 21, 2022
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