Monday, March 1, 2010

Magazines Aren't Coffee - And That's A Good Thing

"Will the Internet Kill Magazines? Did Instant Coffee Kill Coffee?"

That’s one of the slogans about to be used in an ad campaign aimed at proving the worth of the magazine publishing industry.

Where are these ads to be placed, you ask? That’s right – in front-of-book magazine pages. If you don’t already know, those pages are prime real estate in the glossy publishing world – pages for which advertisers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get noticed.

So, just to make sure we’re all on the same page (no pun intended): magazines are about to forego millions of dollars in advertising in an effort to validate their own existence.

The campaign, work of powerhouse agency Young and Rubicam, is laughable at best. Yes, I’m extremely critical of these forthcoming ads – here’s why:


The analogy made is a flawed one. I’ll give them credit – instant coffee and traditional bean brews have managed to coexist, and traditional coffee has even made a comeback…

But to compare instant coffee to the Internet is foolish.

The Internet has revolutionized our culture so completely – so thoroughly – that we’ll never be the same again. Digital integration and increasing connectivity are in no way comparable to instant coffee since coffee is such a miniscule part of our lives. When it comes to communication and personal relationships, the Internet has irrevocably changed our society, for better or for worse. The fact that if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world, speaks volumes to the swift and irreversible changes we’ve undergone.

Not to mention a huge flaw in this comparison: while instant coffee is a much more convenient and budget-conscious option to the traditional kind, both cost money and are based on the same consumption model – that you go to Starbucks (or another coffee shop) and/or the grocery store and purchase your preference.

That’s not the case with the Internet, which provides information free-of-charge. I refresh my Twitter in the morning and I am instantly aware of what’s going on in the World. I visit the websites of my favorite publications and read full-length articles for free. What’s the point of me going out to buy the same material?


These ads are merely patchwork – cover-up – for a much deeper problem: the fact that magazines reflect an outdated way of storytelling – one that, despite all the gimmicks in the print version, completely denies the ADD, time-compressed nature of our society.

When I talk to my friends – most of whom are recent college grads or still in school, and thus completely engrossed in social media – they all bring up the same point: why can’t we create an interactive magazine where photos come alive and designs flesh themselves out on our screens? Is this an impossible dream for the industry?

As the line between video and digital cameras becomes increasingly blurred, and as print and digital media merge into one, magazines need to adapt in order to survive. I firmly believe that magazines – as they stand right now – cannot and will not continue in the same form they have for decades.


My biggest qualm with the campaign is that it so desperately seeks to stabilize the status quo instead of challenging the industry to reinvent itself. An industry should never have to prove its own worth – magazines should be working feverishly to provide top-notch, refreshing and engaging content in an interactive, succinct and social media-friendly format.

The main question upon which the industry should focus as it reorganizes and redefines itself is this: as our society and culture change, what do magazines offer in the digital realm? Do they really add value to our lives that cannot be gained elsewhere?

Right now, there’s little to no leadership in the effort to revive magazines as cutting-edge distributors of original content. The only major magazine that’s tried switching things up is Esquire. With their striking covers, Augmented Reality issue and continued use of code boxes to unlock content online, Esquire has at least attempted new and exciting endeavors. Can you think of any others? I can’t.


So, is the iPad the answer, or is it a magazine that comes to life online? And how do dwindling advertising numbers factor into all of this? Oh, and what about that new phenomenon… what’s it called? Oh, yeah – social media?! And how could we forget the dilemma of sweeping layoffs yet starved digital staffs?

All extremely important questions – and ones that must be answered quickly and utilized as driving factors in reshaping a glorious industry that has so much potential.

At the end of the day, though, we’re all human. And, who’s to say the magazines aren’t trying to stay relevant? If this campaign shows us nothing else, it’s that this is a desperate attempt to convince others that magazines still matter. Magazine journalists work tirelessly to do what they do – and long hours on deadline are never easy.

Serendipitously, I received an email today that really puts this entire blog into perspective. It was a message from Al Gore that was distributed to members of a “green” community called Repower America. The email started:

Dear Chris,

Winston Churchill said, "Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required."

Now is that time.

Although he was talking about climate change, the same quote is applicable to the current dilemma in restoring the magazine industry.

We should see the beauty and potential in the challenges we face, instead of denying the problems at hand. Self-criticism is such a powerful way to bring about change (a la Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”), so let’s do it!

Because if we’re going to make an absurd connection between magazines and coffee, we should burn our own brew to perfect it, right? Right.

1 comment:

  1. "The fact that if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world"

    Wow, that's a crazy fact!

    If there is one thing I can say, every industry in the world is changing. They all must; auto makers like Ford are actually changing and truely making a step forward to their international competition, builders are making buildings that use a fraction of the power they consumed decades ago, and the media industry is having to make ammends that most "news" can be and will be delivered free of charge.

    I think you're right about the quote from Winston Churchill. I just spent all day, fourteen hours working on a project and changes I could not have seen myself doing even three years ago. Why? Because in today's world we all have to do better and be better, its what is required.