The future of (print) magazines (continued)

My magazine friend, David Shaw picks up on the conversation about the future of magazines.


“Printing and distribution technology doesn’t make a magazine…What do I mean by that? Magazines are a genre, much like novels are, with conventions and expectations attached to them. You know what I mean by a novel versus a work of non-fiction. You know what I mean by a magazine versus a newspaper. A sitcom has conventions, so do comic books. These conventions, these expectations, transcend the physical manifestation of the genre. I’ve read novels using a hand-held e-reader, and guess what?–they were still novels.”


I’ll concede David his point that the word “magazine” is a metaphor (he has some background on the etymology of the term) even when it refers to the ink on paper kind. And yes, when the conventions of magazines are applied to other surfaces or environments than print, then, yes, the metaphor of a print magazine can be understood on those new surfaces or in those new environments.

However, it is my belief that people add the term “magazine” to websites and TV shows for reasons other than the types of conventions to which David refers. Perhaps some people believe the word “magazine” adds a little gravitas to what is, uh, a website. For example, Wikia launched what it called in the press release, some new “communities” that “include democratic sorting of content, blogging, commenting and more.” However, later in the day, the new communities were being called “open-source magazines” by’s Monkey Bites blog who picked up on this quote in the press release, “We want to provide as many ways as possible for people to contribute; they can visit Wikia to write about the facts and build-out the ‘books’ in the library. Now, they can join these new community websites to create the ‘magazine rack’, which is all about news, opinion and gossip.” In that context, the “magazine” metaphor was being used to compare a news-oriented wiki to another type of wiki that a “book” metaphor is being applied to. (I hope you can follow this along at home.)

Believe me, I know why the Wikia folks used the magazine metaphor to describe to a non-techy audience what is an open-source news wiki — real people aren’t ready for that. It’s the same reason I redirect the URL to — the “market” is not quite there. If Wikia wants to use a magazine metaphor to help people understand what a news-oriented wiki is, that’s fine with me. However, I also believe that when terms start meaning everything, they end up meaning nothing.

That’s why, when I use the term magazine, I am referring precisely to the ink on paper kind.

And for the record, I believe the print kind will live on for as long as I’m around — and my children are around. That said, I can’t wait for the e-paper that David blogs about from time-to-time. I’ll love e-paper magazines. I can’t wait to fold up a hundred magazines and put them in my shirt pocket. Indeed, I’m on record as wanting a bigger format iPod (#3) that will be, in essence, a type of e-reader on steroids. I will buy one the day it becomes available. And I’m sure I will call the magazines I read on it, magazines. However, for now, I mean paper when I use the word magazine.

[Photo: Some of the magazines printed on paper published by Hammock Publishing when we’re not developing wikis or conversational media. Via:]

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