Modern-day print journalism resembles more a field of battle than a field of news reporting. Death, mass casualties, unprecedented trepidation. These are some of the sentiments floating around regarding the industry’s print sector with its demise being quick, painful and largely uncompromising. Newspapers have been hit hard, but perhaps more so, magazines have felt the brunt of the online invasion. We’ve heard many times before, a future for print appears bleak.
And it’s not hard to see why. Magazine powerhouse, Bauer Media, has killed off a host of its Australian-based productions with popular titles such as Cleo falling by the wayside. The magazines that have survived have experienced consistently poor sales over the last number of years while job losses in the sector have continued to grow. Bauer Media CEO Yvonne Bauer conceded the German organisation’s Australian adventure had been a “tumultuous few years” while IPC Media CEO Marcus Rich deemed the industry a “burning platform”. Put simply, many sectors across the magazine industry look dead and buried.
However, with every death comes new life.
What we’re seeing now is the rise of the niche magazine. While not all mainstream magazines are failing — Time magazine recorded a 17% gain in sales last year, for instance — it is the underground publications who are digging themselves up to the surface to be a competitive force. These relatively small productions are gaining traction in this volatile market and in doing so, completely re-shaping the business model of what it is to be a magazine.
Paul Allworthy, Design & Art Director of international publication Good Sport, senses this key shift within the industry. “Magazines have a different role. They need to be somewhere in between a magazine and a book, especially if it’s a niche magazine like Good Sport”.
According to Allworthy, readers want to be taken on a journey through the magazine, meaning creators must take a holistic — thereby, more considered — approach to making a magazine. The design and layout has always been important, but in this new niche world, it has become paramount. What we’re seeing now is a minimalistic approach to magazine design. Less is more, type of thing. Titles such as Boat, Cereal and Kinfolk, are finding success on the back of this unconventional method.
The reason behind this is that magazines are trying to sell the entire product, rather than catchy headlines to draw readers in. And it’s because of this idea of an all-round appealing product that magazines are becoming “something you might want to collect”, according to Ben Clement, editor of the aforementioned Good Sport. Magazine store owner, Vali Valibhoy, says there’s been a certain “renaissance” with particular publications and how they’ve become modern-day “art forms”.
Everything from page layouts, font textures and advertising methods are being meticulously considered in this quasi-revolution we’re seeing today. “We wanted to take a considered approach on advertising. We’d like to be able to work with that brand and have a conversation with them about how it’s going to look and fit into the magazine”, says Clement of Good Sport. “That challenges the way traditional advertising has always been rather than just getting any old ad and throwing it in. It has to fit in the magazine.”
“As an art director you spend a lot of time trying to create a really enjoyable and visually pleasing experience for your readers and then you throw in some really ugly ad to make the whole thing financially possible,” says Kai Brach, founder of tech magazine Offscreen. The German, who created the magazine out of his bedroom, elected to move away from ads completely and instead opted for the sponsorship model in a bid to maintain the magazine’s tidy set-up. By placing eight pages in the middle of the magazine with a neat and well-kept layout, in his own words, Brach was “creating value” for the readers.
It is with this considered approach that these indie publications have found their niche in the journalism market. Specificity across all facets of production has led to a resurgence — albeit on a smaller scale — of the magazine that has given an industry, apparently on it’s death bed, a bit of hope heading into a web-dominant future.