Magazines of the Future

Are you a big magazine reader? I used to be. These days, except for Mother Jones, nearly all of the magazines that arrive in my mailbox are for kids (New Moon Girls, Cricket). And fortunately, the AARP magazine formerly known as Modern Maturity hasn’t found me yet.

But I grew up in a home where Newsweek, Ms., and, (of course!) National Geographic were all savored – and saved – as treasures. For a number of years, I subscribed to an array of publications, everything from Tikkun to The Nation, The Sun, Emerge, The Advocate, E magazine.

On some level, I believed that the number and of diversity of magazines I digested reflected my identity and self-esteem as an educated, informed, curious, cultural person, even if I didn’t subscribe to the New Yorker. And when I used to interview people for newsroom jobs, I always asked them where they get their news and which magazines they read on a regular basis, a litmus test of sorts.

Scratch all that. Nowadays, nearly all of my nonfiction reading is online, and magazines simply remind me of air travel, doctors’ offices, and curb recyclables.

A few recent developments got me wondering what the future holds for magazines. The Washington Post announced plans to sell Newsweek magazine. Perhaps no one will buy it. Discover magazine is also up for grabs. The Nation finally updated its website to include interactivity and social networking. Nearly every month, another seemingly popular mag “goes archival.” A bitter blog called Magazine Death Pool functions as an obit page for the magazine industry. 

The biggest news of the year for magazines may turn out to be the coveted iPad, which many in the tech blogosphere have been predicting will save the magazine industry. I suspect that most magazines are investing massively in the development of their tablet applications. Even Wired is getting re-wired.

So, what is the future of the magazine? Is it a big “so, what?” Is anybody really experimenting boldly with the reinvention of magazines the way they/we are with other media? I’ve been digging around and have found some cool efforts at breathing new life into these exquisite corpses. Some of the developments mentioned below are hot off the presses; others may already be history.

Font-Tastic Page-Turners

1.  FLYP Magazine: an innovative experiment in interactive magazinery. An effort worth checking out. Unfortunately, it seems as though FLYP is on hiatus now for lack of funds. If it isn’t revived it will certainly be copied and remembered for the maverick magazine it once was.

2.  Pop-Up Magazine: brings the spirit of magazines alive through clever, creative stage and screen performances that showcase edgy writers, awesome media makers and some of the best producers in public radio. If A Prairie Home Companion and This American Life can have successful live events, why can’t a magazine literally go 3-D?

3. 48 Hour Magazine just burst onto the scene this month. Like the 48 Hour Film Projects, this was a road-test to speed-edit a magazine in just 2 days with lots of collaboration and caffeine. The theme of the first issue was appropriately called “Hustle.” The exercise drew a lot of blog buzz (even in the Wall Street Journal) – and promises of future issues – but profits are still a question mark.

4. The Economist. The stodgy British publication that looks like a magazine but calls itself a newspaper hasn’t actually re-invented itself (yet) but it did create a very cool promotional interactive called Thinking Space which asks “where do you get your ideas?” and takes us inside the minds and feng sui of some of it “creative class” readers. 

Which magazines are you still reading and why? Have you found any astonishing innovations while turning or clicking through the pages of a magazine? What do you think the future holds for full-color, glossy, printed word?