Where Will Magazines Be Ten Years From Now?

“I want you to understand, if you’re on a subway or in the bathtub or curled up on the couch, women have a very close relationship with a magazine,” said Bonnie Fuller, the editorial director of American Media. “Women are very textural and enjoy the intimacy and the personal relationship with a magazine. It’s very different than looking at it online.”

“In 10 years, I think my magazine will look like it looks today,” Wired’s Mr. Anderson said.

 

TELLING AN EDITOR to make a Web site out of his or her magazine is now, as it has been for the past decade, like telling them to make lemonade out of them.

And in fact, that’s just what they’re making on the Web: anything but a magazine.

Condé Nast has said that it’s using its magazine’s Web sites as a way to boost subscriptions for its magazines.

The New York Times Magazine?

“On the Internet we have blogs and graphics and slide shows for the photos we didn’t publish, and there’s a chance to have Q&A’s, too,” said editor Gerald Marzorati. “We have other stuff coming down the pipeline that we’re experimenting with. With our T magazine, we have started curating short movies and a staff to create short movies.”

So for the near future, no one is planning 7,500-word pieces as Web exclusives, right?

“I suspect not,” said Mr. Marzorati. “I would suspect we wouldn’t best utilize our brand or our resources that way. It’ll still be a print-based piece, and we will have just more bells and whistles on the Web.”

“Let’s say God forbid something awful happened on a Monday,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. “And someone Herculean could write a 5,000-word piece by Wednesday. Could I put that online? I could imagine it. But we are very, very, very rigorously edited and fact-checked. … So can I imagine it? It would be very, very exceptional. It wouldn’t be part of the routine in the near future.”

The question is not really whether the Internet creates the only possible justifiable medium for distributing text to readers. Late capitalism is built on unjustifiable expenses. They’re called luxuries. The question is whether the reader in the Internet Age will regard a print magazine full of reporting that took months to gather, printed on the world’s diminishing supply of paper, as a luxury rather than an indispensable requirement. And whether that will change what gets written about, and how.

“I don’t pretend to be alone in the world in running long pieces, which are things that require long periods of reporting and very considered writing,” said Mr. Remnick. “As long as I’ll be here, and long after that, it’ll be central to our understanding of ourselves. That’s a promise.”

“When a story merits that space, we’ll give it that space,” said Mr. Granger. “Last issue, we ran an 18,000-word piece, and in the next issue Chris Jones will have a 16,000-word piece.”

So, that takes us to May 2008. But over the next five years, the forces that will change the magazine industry the most in the next 10 years are not ones that Kim France will need to put on her silly hat to understand. They are the same ones that gave rise to Lucky in the first place.

“If you look at recent magazines that are successful businesses, many exist to satisfy only advertisers,” said James Truman, the former editorial director of Condé Nast. “Any publisher has to look at those as successful business models and successful business models tend to be copied.

“Editors were protected a long time ago from thinking about their magazines like businesses, especially at Condé Nast, but that changed in the last 10 years,” he said. “Now editors are brand managers as much as they are editorial experts.”

Yes: In the world of the future, the editorial experts will be ad buyers and magazine buyers. And their world is becoming increasingly digitized, their expectations of time spent reading words diminishing, their capacity and taste for internalizing information in different ways—non-narrative, nonverbal—increasing. That is, the Internet won’t replace magazines, but it might replace their readers.

“There are more 50-word bits in magazines, just at the same time with Web media there is a premium on brevity,” Kurt Andersen said. “It’s not a one-to-one correspondence, but there’s a connection. People are habituated by the various media. They like smaller chunks and multitasking and want to consume something in one gulp. But no, I’m not that worried that the audience for topical, well-wrought, well-reported, serious nonfiction journalism will disappear.”

The question is just how long they’ll be reading on paper.

“As I look at things on the Kindle, I am getting more specific glimmers of the death of paper,” Mr. Andersen said. “That the readability thing of electronic ink is getting good enough that the next stage of the beginning of the end is for paper magazines. In the next 10 years certainly: the easy portable piece of plastic on which each magazine can be beamed”

That is, maybe his old partner Graydon Carter had it right!