April 16, 2010
Once upon a time, when people actually used to ‘read’ magazines, they were really good value for money. Of course, they were mostly printed on cheap woodfree paper and they weren’t glossy. But editorial content was surprisingly diverse, with well-researched in-depth articles and features, lifestyle tips, short stories and a balanced advertising to editorial ratio. What happened? During a recent trip to the hairdresser I was offered a glossy and very weighty international women’s magazine to read. Great, I thought – but I should have known better. After wading through page after tedious page of perfume/jewellery/fashion advertisements, all offering highly Photoshopped images of incredibly surreal models, I finally came across a very long list of contents. Alarm bells were ringing – how can it possibly include so much? It took me less than 10 minutes to go through the other 200 or so pages to discover why. Liberally interspersed with yet more advertising, boring paid-for advertorial and the occasional detailed description of someone’s sexual fantasies/experiences (which would have shocked my mother to the very core of her being… I think!), no feature was more than one or two pages long and most were just a hotchpotch of fashion, society and paparazzi celebrity images, thrown together on the page. The editorial consisted mainly of a 25-word intro and a few somewhat pathetic catchy captions. I was left wondering why I hadn’t brought a good book to read. A quick scout round the newsagent’s magazine racks confirms it – this is the norm. With so many publications offering such similar content, it’s hard to believe they can all survive. But alongside the glossy women’s monthlies is something even worse …the scandal rags. It’s incredible to even think that people actually buy these, take them home and leave them lying around for their children to read. Do I really want my 12-year old reading lurid articles like, “I had sex with my stepfather while Mum was washing his socks” or, “I stole from my blind Gran to feed my drug habit”? What sort of moral values do these instill into the vulnerable minds of our kids? Is the collective IQ of western society regressing? Are we becoming so self-involved in materialism that we no longer have any interests outside of fashion, sex, drugs and scandal? I, for one, certainly hope that’s not true but I suspect it is, because even though every issue of a magazine that comes off the press is subsidized by a small rain forest and the per copy price is equal to the cost of a good home-cooked meal for a family of four, it sells like hot cakes! Of course, I know that publishing is all about making money and that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to survive in what is now a highly competitive market. After almost 35 years of publishing experience I am left with the feeling that all my efforts to produce interesting, informative, casual reading material have been in vain. I am in a dilemma – I know that everything we produce on this planet should have a worthwhile purpose and that includes publishing magazines. So, should I shoulder what must be the social responsibility of all editors and continue doing what I know is right, or throw in the towel, follow the trend …and live unhappily ever after?