In the next five years in Graydon Carter’s world, you’ll walk onto a plane, or a subway, or a soon-to-be-invented mode of transport, and you’ll tuck a little electronic book under your arm. Inside that little book, which will be very expensive at first but soon will cost $150, there’ll be a series of mylar “pages,” and there will be small buttons off to the side, and once you hit one of them, whoooosh, words and photos from Vanity Fair will suddenly appear.
“You’ll subscribe to five magazines and six newspapers,” Mr. Carter said. “That is what I see as the future. … That I know is coming.”
“Ultimately, there will be some sort of device!” said Peter Meirs, the vice president of production technology at Time Inc.
“In a decade time frame?” asked Chris Anderson, editor of Wired. “No. Technology adoption happens slowly. This is the editor of Wired telling you no. Obviously, newspapers are going to be changing dramatically over the next few years, but magazines are not newspapers. And I think magazines 10 years from now are going to look something like they do now.”
Interviews with editors of magazines like Wired, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Us Weekly and several others elicited more of the same:Magazines are not, for the most part, worried about the Internet.
Most magazine editors seem to have emerged from 10 years of mostly noncommittal fiddling around with the Web confident that the magazine of the future will be largely the magazine of the present. That is, when they are willing to look past the next print deadline to contemplate the magazine of the future at all.
“Sorry, not dodging you,” wrote Janice Min, editor of Us Weekly. “I just think I have nothing to say because I don’t really know the answer!”
What if you put on your thinking hat?
“I cannot answer that without putting on my silly hat!” said Kim France, the editor of Lucky. “It’s just impossible to imagine.”
“I THINK IN the late 90’s, when those first e-books came out, there was an assumption everything would go online,” said David Granger, the editor of Esquire. “But that’s what it’s like with every new technology—anytime a new medium comes out, it’s gonna kill all previous mediums and it never does. We’re in a more realistic view of the future of magazines.”
For Hearst, that means all sorts of new ways to think about the print magazine. To Mr. Granger, that means using some more expensive paper, perhaps. A cover that folds out into a piece of topical origami? Maybe!
“Magazines have to become more magaziney rather than less magaziney,” said Mr. Granger. “There are things you can do with your cover where the paper will actually fold into different shapes—this cool experience that will let you do novel editorial things, but it’s all very expensive.”
To prove its interest, on March 11 Hearst held its first ever “print innovation expo” at its new skyscraper on Eighth Avenue. The printers and manufacturers there showed editors and publishers all sorts of new magazine covers, including “lenticular covers (holographic treatment that allows two images to interchange), gatefolds, pull-out sections, metallic printing and more,” e-mailed Nathan Christopher, a spokesman for Hearst.
The point, then, is to capitalize the physical experience of reading magazines. If it’s all about textual and textural experience, then the more dear that experience becomes, the more of a luxury object it becomes.
“The correspondence between physical luxury as a subject and physical luxury as a thing,” Kurt Andersen, the former editor of New York, thought out loud. “As paper magazines become rarer, it might seem like they become a physical luxury and thereby gain. The affinity between thing and subject might be greater in 10 years.”
It’s the argument magazine editors have been making for ages—even as their magazines themselves become more luxurious objects, chronicle more luxurious lives.
The question is, when did we start thinking of magazines as luxuries? And is it there that magazines will have to look to scratch out their survival—among photo shoots of country estates and fancy cars and couture clothing?
“The strength of our magazine is that it’s not disposable and clickable,” said Sally Singer, the fashion and features director at Vogue. “It’s a fundamentally different experience from reading it online.”
“We tell long, narrative stories with fantastic pictures,” said Mr. Carter. “You can’t replace that on the computer screen.”
“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!