14th June, 2004

The Monthly Style Magazine - R.I.P

The state of magazine publishing in the UK is in serious limbo. People simply do not need to pay four quid a month to find out what’s going on - not now we have the web at our fingertips.

magazine covers

In the past month, one of our major clients, Swinstead Publishing, went out of business. It was a huge shock to all concerned, particularly the readers of Jockey Slut and Sleaze. Recently former style-bible The Face went the same way, and many more look like joining them in the great trash bin in the sky. Is it the end of the magazine era?

Others such as Bang, X-Ray and Muzik have also hit the shredder recently. Even porno mags are finding it difficult (I’m reliably informed) to compete with the growth of web-based content.

It all makes sense though. Editors have been insulting our intelligence for some years, with a multitude of lame attempts to keep us interested. “The 100 albums you must own!”, “This year’s must-have hat” and “The Vines are the best band ever/Oh, we meant The Strokes/No, The Libertines - Oh, we’re too confused”. Who are these people trying to fool, and who dare dictate to me which records I own?

Style mags are tat!

The demise of Swinstead Publishing was a big shock to us. We’d been steadily building a complex website for their flagship publication Jockey Slut for a few months. We discovered that Swinstead had hit the fan at the same time as their staff, creditors and clients. However, it soon began to make sense - the fickle world of publishing has it’s victims, and we’d been aware of the decline and eventual expulsion of The Face. If that could die, no mag was safe.

Style magazines as we like to label them, are mostly average tat. They’re bloody expensive, appeal to a broad range of fools and a small range of specialists. They fill a weird gap between targeted publications and porn (itself obviously targeted, but definitely out there on it’s own shelf, as it were). The public have grown tired of the format, bored of the content and annoyed at the prices. It’s not strictly a reaction to the popularity of the internet.

I’d rather buy a Guinness (or two)

Still, I personally don’t buy magazines any more. I can get two pints of Guinness for the price of a style mag, and there the argument ends for me. I can trawl the internet for any nugget of tat I might need in a fraction of the time, and chances are what I find will be bang up to date. Freedom from copy deadlines and the static page means the web can never be threatened by the magazine format. I might be persuaded to buy a mag for a train journey, but that’s about it. Why would I need it?

In the final weeks of Jockey Slut, the editorial team were frantically looking to new methods of attracting readers. Their brainstorming was relentless, but so often they were taking the right approach. Their aim was to strategically link the magazine to the website and vice-versa. One was only half of the full picture. Live streaming on the site, but accessible via codes found in the magazine, and no duplication of magazine content on the site. Sure, they were making readers go out and buy the physical Jockey Slut, but still they were exploring the web as a new medium - taking it slowly, and building towards a coherent, accessible, communal site that would have enabled them to eventually phase out the magazine and it’s high overheads. Sadly for the Jockey Slut team, they were not given enough time to implement their ideas fully.

So, how many more UK magazines are gonna fall by the wayside? Now is the time for publishers and editorial teams to really look at using the web as the next stepping stone. Sure, many have already paid out for flashy, multi-coloured websites that loop the loop and do somersaults, but how many actually involve their online readership? How many work both ways between reader and writer? How many simply echo the content of the magazine? How many are stale? How many have no web presence at all?

The difference between print and web

The magazines that successfully transfer to the web and increase readership (and relevance) will be very few. The approach to such a step is casual, and seems to be much more about look and feel than functionality. In my experience, as soon as an editor realises that the web is an opportunity to do something different to the printed approach, the chances of success dramatically increase. Sadly, many are determined to merely replicate their magazines online. This is a pointless exercise.

However, there may be a silver lining to this debate. UK magazines may well be going down the toilet, but at least there’s the possibility that Hello! and OK! may go with them. Fingers crossed…

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