Thursday, January 26, 2012

What, if anything, is a magazine?

A recent New York Times article tells the store of Esquire magazine's troubles in 2008 and 2009, and how it was able to survive them by adapting to the world of online publishing.

I'm not sure I've ever read Esquire in either print or digital form.  For that matter, I don't buy magazines much any more, but I do follow the (free) online content of some, particularly The Economist.

So do I, or does a digital Esquire subscriber, read magazines?  Pretty clearly yes, just as there's pretty clearly more to a magazine than its print edition.  So what's a magazine?  Some thoughts:
  • A classic magazine is almost always periodical, though a few publish irregularly.  On the web, content generally goes up when it's ready, regardless of the print publishing schedule.  Let's say a magazine is an ongoing publication.  There may or may not be a sequel to your favorite book, but part of publishing a magazine is the promise that there will be more.
  • A magazine is not tied to any particular individual.  Even in cases like Forbes or Oprah, where a particular individual's identity is an integral part of the brand, the actual magazine is the work of many people.  It is an institution, that can survive the departure of any particular person (though in some cases better than others).  This is where we can probably best see the tie to the earlier sense of magazine as a storehouse, and it's also a distinguishing feature between an online magazine and a blog.
  • Even though it's a group effort, a magazine does have a personality, or at least a good one does.  Even if its contributors don't always see eye to eye, there will be something about having that particular mix of opinions and styles that makes the magazine what it is.
From this point of view, as long as there are ongoing publications with multiple contributors and a recognizable personality, there will be magazines, regardless of the actual mechanics of publishing.

A corollary to that is that there ought to be just as much of a market for magazines as there ever was.  The puzzle, as always, is reaching that market and making sure everyone still gets paid, which is why I find it interesting that the headline of the Times article is in past tense: "How Esquire Survived ...", not "How will Esquire survive ..."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Does there have to be an app for that?

Weddings are generally public affairs, and they always have been.  I doubt it's ever been particularly difficult to find out who's planning a public wedding and when in a given area.  With the advent of online wedding planning it's now perhaps a bit easier yet, and if you're looking for a wedding to crash, well, there's an app for that.

Now, I'm with the author of the article in thinking that the kind of person who would use such a thing has -- how shall we say -- issues, but the flip side of that is, who's actually going to use it, as opposed to just having a laugh looking up one's friends and acquaintances?  Or more precisely, who's going to use it who wouldn't have been willing and able to crash a given wedding anyway?

In general, there's a lot of gray area when it comes to "enabling technologies", not to mention the larger sticky issue of to what extent technology can or should be considered without considering its potential consequences.  On the one hand, it's easy to say "The real problem is the wedding sites' privacy models.  The app just pulls together information that's already available."  But that's a cop-out.  As we've seen, pulling together information that's already available and making it universally accessible (if not useful) can make a significant difference.  Sometimes this is good, sometimes not, and just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be.

Just how much of a difference pulling together existing information and making it easy to get to can make depends on what the information is, how hidden it was, who wants to know and a host of other factors.  In this particular case, I doubt the app will make much difference.  That's not to condone wedding crashing, or the app, or to excuse its creators.  If your wedding is crashed by some tech-savvy boor who would otherwise have missed out, you have my sympathies, for whatever that's worth.