I thought I could get away with a one word entry for Peter Houston’s wee ’Magazine Diaries’ project, but apparently it had to be exactly 100 words. “Doomed, doomed, we’re all doomed” 20 times would have done it, but in the end I went for a suitably upbeat, joyous and life-affirming entry with the minimum of repetition. (And if you haven’t done your 100 words yet you have until Friday.)
A fair few of the entries about publishing’s wonderful present seem either to be written while under the influence of strong drink, or based on redefining ’magazine’ as anything that’s got content in it. One wee laddie even said that Buzzfeed was a magazine – presumably in the same way that ASOS is a ’catalogue’, or Facebook is an ’address book’.
My effervescent optimism about magazine publishing is for the ink on paper periodical, or its bastard offspring the digital page-turner (was there ever a more pointless hybrid of old and new technologies?). They’re doomed, and the companies clinging to this model can only wring so much cash from their products before the inevitable terminus. Some of what we currently call ’magazines’ will survive as digital ’brands’, but that won’t be based on the auld publishing model of ’issues’ and ’publication dates’ and ’contents pages’ and ’covers’. It won’t be bought in shops or delivered to your home or read in the bath. Some of the current publishing companies will transmute and survive, but lots of them won’t, mainly because new starters don’t have to carry the financial or emotional baggage of a print legacy and they’ll steal oor dinner.
But the main reason why the industry is doomed is that, well, working in magazines is now a bit shit. Not too much – we still attract quite a few fresh-faced wee bairns – but considerably more than it was and on a downward curve. More and more of the bright and talented would rather work for a ’online media business’ than a print one that is fechtin to adapt to the 21st century; the money’s better, the buzz is buzzier, the future holds more promise.
Back in the old, old times, publishing schedules meant that for a quarter of your time you were manically busy, half your time you worked hardish, and a quarter of your time (from press day on), you took it pretty easy and had some fun. That doesn’t happen now, press day being just a small acceleration in a hamster wheel of constant activity. Costs have been cut across the industry, which is a euphemism for chopping staff and getting the remaining ones to do more work.
We have become an industry that doesn’t do ’fun’ any more. That’s fine for a grumpy old miserabilist like you, but not so good for the shiny 20-somethings we’ve always relied on to do the grunt work while we have meetings. They prefer the bright offices with primary-coloured furniture and free vodka Fridays, the wacky business cards and painfully cool websites. We’re a bit dreich, a bit tired, a bit, well, twentieth century.
We’ve had a good run and we’re not dead yet, but like a spree centenarian, we know that things aren’t ever going to get better. It’s not “if”, but “when”, and that “when” is closer than most want to think about.