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The Future of Print Magazines

by Grace Bonney

The Future of Print Magazines on Design*Sponge Radio
As we get closer to the end of the year and the end of our radio season, I wanted to tackle one of the biggest issues in the creative community: the future of print publication. Starting in 2008, the lifestyle community saw the death of many of its most beloved publications: House & Garden, Gourmet, Domino, Blueprint, Readymade and many more. While a few have come back in less frequent forms, the industry still seems to be figuring out how to regain its foothold in a drastically changing advertising and reader world. In the meantime, a wide range of independent publications have grown and seem to be building sustainable models for print in a slightly more niche style. While there’s no way for any of us to predict the future or summarize what is clearly a complicated issue, I wanted to have a round table discussion with some of the print publications I love and trust. So yesterday I sat down with Paul Lowe and Paul Vitale of Sweet Paul Magazine, Michele Outland of Gather Journal and Janine Vangool of Uppercase Magazine (who joined us on the phone) to discuss the future of print, how to financially support it, what you need to make it work and the biggest hurdles to overcome.

Although I work online, I love print and believe it will continue to play an important role in the creative community. I think people like Paul, Janine and Michele are great examples of one way print can continue to thrive and I so appreciate their thoughts and input on the subject. I’d also love to hear YOUR thoughts. What do you think is the future of print in the lifestyle community? Do you buy magazines anymore? If so, what kind? I’m so curious to see what we can learn from each other and how best to keep supporting publications like theirs that provide high-quality inspiration and ideas in printed form. xo, grace

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  • I will always buy print. Granted, I’m also someone who – on numerous occasions – has been accused of being a bit of a “magazine hoarder.”

    But, there’s something irreplaceable about a beautifully produced print publication.

  • I LOVE print magazines and I still subscribe to several, mostly interior design ones like HGTV, Country Living, Domino, Better Homes & Garden. I still will purchase one here and there at a local bookstore or in the airport.

    • I’ll always purchase magazines. There’s something about HOLDING them in your hands and marking the pages for future inspiration. Do I subscribe to online mags? Yes. But I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as something “real”. Currently I get House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Country Living, Elle home magazine and Better Homes and Gardens.

  • Janine!! I love Uppercase, I used to hang out at/near her studio in Calgary when I was an awkward 1st year university kid. So much love to her.

  • While I have no problems reading my books on an e-reader, two things I’ll always buy in print. Cookbooks and magazines. There is a certain feel to reading a magazine in print that I can’t get in a digital version, even if ipad versions now feature all kinds of extra content.

  • I used to love shelter print magazines. I still subscribe to several of them, but their feeling is totally different from what it was in the early and mid-2000s. They feel more like product ads now (I’m talking about the articles themselves, not just the every-other-page of ads stuff). They feel more like catalogs than like magazines. Everything emphasizes how quick changes can be made and “mini makeovers.” While I like the idea of swapping out towels and bathmats now and then (bathroom), or duvets and euro shams (bedroom), none of that stuff is really FIXING anything. How many problems do new items really solve? Few, if any. I consume a lot of online shelter content too (D*S is my favorite) but I don’t notice this problem in those online publications. I guess print magazines these days seem to be losing touch… They offer tons of ideas (and I’m not opposed to seeing the same idea in different publications – no one needs to reinvent the wheel to impress me). But at the same time, it also feels like a sales job. There are fashion articles in almost all of the print shelter magazines I see these days, and makeup articles, and most of the non-shelter articles I see in such magazines seem stale… (there are other, better ways for me to get that type of content). I guess it seems like print magazines are trying to cater to as large a chunk of the general population as possible, and while that may attract mainstream advertisers, perhaps it is putting off readers like me. I feel like print magazines are getting thicker, yet the quality of the content and even the amount of pure, usable content, is going down. That excited feeling I used to get when a new magazine would go on display or get mailed to me hasn’t happened in a while.

  • I agree with Giulia’s comment above, you don’t get the same experience reading a magazine online. And how are you supposed to dog-ear pages? I was so thrilled when Domino came back. In addition to Domino, I get Vogue (pretty pictures) and Do-It-Yourself. I also love my husband’s print magazines – GQ and Surfer’s Journal.

  • For me the rise of print niche mags satisfies the same need as slow blogging. And now that I think of it, podcasts too!

    So much information is coming at us online that I find myself skimming a lot of it. There’s something so satisfying about holding Uppercase or Sweet Paul or Gather (swoon) with the quality of paper, the love & care with the content, and the point of view. I savor rather than skim.

    And the same with podcasts – it’s someone’s unique point of view and I don’t/can’t skim. I have to listen to it as it unfolds.

    I’d love to see the numbers (it must be my original biz school training – I’m always curious about the behind-the-scenes of how it all works) for mainstream compared to print mags. As well as mainstream blogs compared to niche blogs. I’m less and less interested in the generic blah blah blah no matter what the topic and much more captivated by a point of view of a particular person. But is that reflected in the numbers? Are we the outliers?

    The tactile experience of a beautiful magazine satisfies. And it’s why I still read print books although my budget is moving me back to ebooks!

    Maybe it’s why we’ll always sit down to eat a meal rather than pop a few nourishment pills in some sci fi future.

  • I love both magazines and books in print. However, speaking as only one voice, I feel like I can get quick style, design, and makeup tips from the blogs I follow, so what I’d like to see from magazines are more in-depth mini “classes” (for lack of a better term) on subjects, as well as lifestyle profiles of real people doing great things. Something in-between a book and a blog. I feel that magazines can speak with more trusted authority than most blogs, because there’s a sense they are more reputable, whereas blogs can be anyone posting anything. Just my two cents.

  • I stopped subscribing to magazines a few year ago. The amount of junk mail, bills and magazines, made it impossible for me to actually read a magazine and enjoy it. Fast forward to a year ago, when I subscribed to a service called “olive box.” Olive box sends you a curated box of unique stationery items monthly. In one of the boxes, I discovered “Sweet Paul” Magazine. It was also a signed copy and since then I’ve been buying “Sweet Paul” mag. For me, it was the tactile experience, photography and matte paper that made me to return to reading magazines.

  • I love print magazines and I am also a magazine hoarder. I just love the feeling of turning pages, feeling the feel of paper between my fingers, and falling into the rabbit hole when I find a magazine or book with beautiful photos, illustrations, and well written articles. I miss Blueprint, and Country Home. I currently read MS Living, Better Homes, and Gardens, Country Living, Real Simple, Interweave Knits, and Knitscene.

  • I grew up loving print magazines, have been lucky enough to work at a few, and hope they never go away. I do love reading Design*Sponge and other shelter sites, but there is nothing like curling up in bed or the couch with a physical object to dog-ear or refer to again and again. My mom definitely is not into online reading, so it’s also nice to have this shared experience with her, where we sit, drink tea and pass magazines back and forth. Of course, this is mostly with really well done shelter mags. As others have noted, some of old standbys have become very “ad-like” in terms of editorial content with not much meat on the pages. But a good shelter mag … always a keeper.

  • Thank you, Grace, for having me as a guest on your show.

    And thank you to the kind commenters here and subscribers who keep me and UPPERCASE going!

  • Magazines need to be artistic in order to survive. I am more willing to pay $10 – $15 for a magazine like Sweet Paul, Donna Hay etc that have stunning unique photographs, recipes and inspiration.
    I an not renewing country living because the issues are getting smaller and smaller, they seem to follow pinterest and not influence it.

  • Print is important.
    It will always be important.
    It’s that physical manifestation of a brand or lifestyle or individual that makes you feel truly connected to and engaged with the content. However, the idea of a magazine being the single product that a brand or team produces and relies on to build their brand verges on unsustainable. The magazine perhaps could be better thought of in comparison to seasonal catalogs released by fashion or home good brands. Beautifully produced print matter compels the reader to engage with a brand in a much larger way, whether that engagement is online or with the brand’s own products. Print is expensive, and will always be expensive. But the content itself is what should be exceptional. By using print as support for a larger source of content perhaps the industry will be able to grow and expand in unpredictable and thoroughly beautiful ways.

  • As a blogger my feelings are ever complicated and complex because after all… we are a part of a medium that initially started the decline of print. All bloggers know this. But now there’s Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, #VSOCAM and the total millennial emotional disconnection….and entitlement of free content that comes with it. Again. It’s not a blame game. Rapidly changing advancements in technology dictate that mind set and it’s sad news for the old days of big profit margins for the few. We’re living in a competitive global economy, things are automated and more and more people have less and less stability. I feel the emotional scrabble of people trying to figure things out for themselves every day as a blogger. Prints mags can be inspiring but to what end? People aren’t even sure about their future’s anymore so they’d rather have agency through their keyboard and their mouse. As for print I enjoy Vogue, Marie Claire, Lucky Mag (And yes…I’ll see those same images on Tumblr before I get them in the mail) but the elephant is the room is connecting “the gaze” with profit and the rules are ever changing, totally in the unknown, way unpredictable, and ever decreasing due to pressures for individuals to become their own brands to succeed. No, print glossies will never be dead but they will never regain the “gaze” of domination it once had. Everyone is out here hustling and it’s open season because…it just is. I don’t pray for CD’s to come back because I have to accept that heyday’s come and go. Where do we go from here? Who the hell knows.

  • I agree there is a dilemma between choosing tactile over digital. However a few months ago I needed to gain room as well as compile an edited folder of ideas for a renovation of my old home. I had five years of magazines but when I went through them I found I tore out perhaps one page in each one and realised I am buying advertising which does not sit well with me. I ended up with just a small folder of usable pages and then passed the magazines on to a local swap group.

    Now I subscribe to a number of digital magazines and save my love of paper for books both fiction and non fiction.

  • I subscribe to Fast Company and Anthology in print, and I also enjoy the occasional issue of Taproot magazine. As someone who loves visual things, when I was a teenager, magazines were close to the top of my leisure necessity list. But as the internet took over and a huge amount of content was more available for free, it became a lot easier to find articles and photos relevant to my interests. When I was first introduced to Pinterest in 2010, that really drew me away from magazines since, for the first time, I had a way to find beautiful photos and “collect” them without having to cut them from a page and put them in my shoebox of pretty clippings. So the digital age changed my world in a good way. All of that said, the web has become completely addictive for my generation (I’m 28) and even more so for the kids growing up today. I used to see the digital world as separate from “real life,” but now I see those lines blurred. That makes me a little uncomfortable, as I nostalgically long for the days of tangible things, morning breakfasts with the newspapers, not having eye strain from so much screen time, doing things with my hands, and more time spent outdoors. There is still something to be said for turning off all the electronics, sitting down with a cup of tea, and flipping through pages of a beautiful publication. I work in the art museum world, and I think it will still be awhile before the printed exhibition catalogue goes out of style because it’s still so important to building artists’ careers. Maybe art books are one small area of print that will live on a bit longer. And I really hope that letterpress cards, stationery, and pretty paper products stick around– they are my favorite kind of printed material.

  • As a frequent consumer of digital products of all kinds, they have their place – one usually driven by expediency. But a print version is a frozen moment in time that is hard to replace, especially in productions which feature beautiful photography. They have the wondrous ability to transport me to a moment, a place, a time and for that they will always have a place.

  • I loved this conversation – I have been wanting to chat with others like myself (that is creative ppl who have started print publications) and listening in on this conversation was a dream – and so helpful. It never ceases to amaze me how motivating and encouraging it can be to not feel alone in your struggles and experiences. Thank you for pulling this together, I am taking away a huge dose of encouragement, but also unexpected clarity about a variety of publication related decisions, that has, until this morning, been elusive. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! (and thank you also to Paul, Paul, Michelle and Janine for taking the time to record this!)

  • I still love buying a stash of magazines, especially when I’m feeling less than inspired by the internet. Sometimes the internet is just too noisy and it’s good to sit with a cup of tea, flick through and read articles in their entirety without being distracted by a sidebar or a link. I can’t imagine we will ever be without magazines, they just need to adapt. The best ones are the ones with an online presence. The ones with their own blogs that give you different content to what’s in the magazine and then get you excited about buying the magazine because you know the content is going to be fresh. Magazines like Mollie Makes also come with really good free gifts that can be used in multiple ways and make a big deal of hashtags to get readers to post what they’ve done with them.

  • I don’t buy magazines from the store, but have subscriptions. So do my friends, and we rotate amongst the 3 of us so we can all read each others. I sure hope the ones I read don’t die, I like to cut out pictures for vision boards and save articles I might go back to.

  • Dear Grace what a great topic!
    For my magazine http://www.blossomzine.eu I made the opposite choice, I wanted to do it only online and free because today in Italy, due to the serious economic crisis, probably only a small part of readers could pay an high cost for distribution and printing.
    Of course it’s a challenge and I hope to win!

  • I loved print (paper) magazines, as a photographer I shot for a lot, HG, MetHome, Shape, Food&Wine, Departures, Vogue Entertaining, etc. Travelling internationally sometimes I used to buy so many magazines my shoulder bag could weigh more than my suitcase. Now, I might buy World of Interiors, or a specialty magazine when flying, such as Classic Car. Print is going to die off, heavy to ship and print, locations to purchase vaporising. Barnes and Noble will cIose soon, and the supermarket trends towards more mass (and less interesting) market. Appealing to the greatest number of people dilutes the inspirational sources. Could you imagine PBS or Oprah featuring a broadcast similar to the very personal, and sometimes darker blogs Hortus or Local Milk? Currently I source images and information with my computer. Not happily, but when I move I’ll probably regret still saving thousands of magazines.

  • I believe there will always be a place for printed magazines and books. I still do buy some magazines in print- mostly Lucky Peach, Domino and Comm Arts on a regular basis. There is just something about holding, flipping, and marking a magazine that cannot be replicated online. I do read some online-only magazines but I do not enjoy them as much. Occasionally I have found myself printing out an entire online magazine just so I can actually see everything in one view or more easily save a recipe. I am a designer and do a lot of digital work but I really don’t know how it will be possible to reproduce the experience of holding a magazine or book to a digital format. I also still buy cds and records and shoot film cameras, so maybe I’m just stuck in the past!

  • I have a master’s degree in, of all things, magazine journalism. From the moment I picked up my first print title, I was hooked. It’s been hard, over the years, to see the industry lose its viability and with it, some of its identity. However, I do believe there are folks out there who still want to hold a copy of a magazine, tear out sheets and thumb through real, glossy pages. Sometimes I wonder if magazines will go the way of vinyl records: Lose favor for a little while to a more modern product but come back as a niche item: something a core group of enthusiasts still likes to consume. Is there still value in print? I think so. And, as is the case with vinyl and MP3s, I believe a love for the old and the new can coexist.

  • I love print – especially magazines – I love the feel, sound and look of paper –

  • I think due to permanence of print resources and peoples special affection to books,they will still survive .Unfortunately,they have to adapt to the present,i personally view the prominence of e-resources as a WAKE UP call for print publications.They must survive whatsoever but with less profits

  • There’s no comparison between online visuals and actually looking at a gorgeous magazine. I absolutely love DS and Apartment Therapy but there’s nothing like the quiet experience of looking at an old Domino. No glare, fresh non computer air, exquisitely lit photography, intelligent copy. Domino is easy on the eyes and I return to it whereas I throw out Elle Decor and other magazines after one view- poor composition and too many ads. But print is becoming precious cargo.

  • I started a print magazine, Ruminate, in 2006. It’s been a long hard road, but we’re still here, gaining readers and growing. Print is definitely not dead!

  • I don’t buy or subscribe to magazine any more for 2 reasons: 1) the ratio of useful to un-useful content is too low to be worth the money spent, and 2) I have environmental guilt re: the physical resources expended to create and distribute the publications. What I would really like to see (and perhaps someone is already doing this, I don’t know) is for major publishers such as Hearst to offer me a monthly subscription that would allow me digital access to X number of magazines from across their offerings (e.g., $20/month allows me to download any 3 issues – current or archived – of any of the magazines they publish). *That* would be awesome!

    • Catherine

      I believe that is already an option for a lot of publications, but few people take that option, especially when it comes to lifestyle content. That model works well for news-based pubs so far, but it hasn’t worked as well for mags yet.


  • Great conversation. I still buy and love magazines, but less titles then in the past. These days it’s the specialty publications, like British edition Country Living, Lucky Peach, Taproot, and Uppercase (all time favourite!) I consider them a treat and savour each page. I used to buy and enjoy the more mainstream titles like Martha Stewart and Elle Decor, but I have found that they not only are a lot thinner, but the articles are far less in depth then 5-10 years ago. Not everyone has a shortened attention span! And of course the granddaddy of them all, Vanity Fair, has only gotten better with age. Long live the magazines!

  • I’ve loved magazines my entire life (starting with Teen Beat or Tiger Beat) ??
    Now I start by flipping through my favorites (O Magazine, Elle, Town & Country, Southern Living, Arch. Digest) back to front – then front to back, then I go back and read the interesting articles. I have to savor every bit!

  • I use to buy magazines when I was younger and dreamed of working as a writer for a magazine or newspaper, but then life just happened. I finally had the courage at age 32 to do an online magazine journalism course, but now I wonder if there would be any jobs in print and if I should pursue this career change.
    It seems like magazines have to be online to even survive.