In Defense of Magazine Subscriptions
I know I’m among friends, so I’ll just come right out and admit it: I’m a recovering magazine elitist. Or, okay, perhaps more like an anti-elitist. Queen of the gossip-rag slum. Nothing pleases me more than the stack of outdated, redaction-riddled tabloids sitting at the nail salon over by the drying station. If there’s an especially long wait time at a doctor’s office, I ain’t even mad as long as it’s well-stocked with “the glossies”. It feels deliciously asinine to add to my knowledge about people I do not know, collect useless fashion facts that I will never need, decide “Who Wore It Best” and tear out perfumed fragrance sample pages to rub onto my wrist.
When I selected my first apartment with my husband, my favorite tabloid started showing up in the mailbox before I even moved in, and I glibly pretended I had no idea how it got there. It was the perfect gateway drug into what has evolved into a (hopefully higher-brow) enthusiasm of mine. I didn’t always have the time to delve into the quality garbage being supplied to my doorstep weekly, but I began to feel a sort of allegiance to the publication that I hadn’t felt prior. I felt like an investor in an industry. One I probably didn’t want a stake in.
My allegiance was short-lived as I realized I was enabling something ignoble to exist. This magazine didn’t elevate dialogue or speak truth to the world around me. I still love those kinds of magazines (I can’t quit you, “What’s in My Bag?” round-ups), but if I have money to spend on something like a subscription, I want to strive to put that money into the hands of hungry, hard-working writers and editors that really do seek to change the world for the better. Magazine enlightenment up-level achieved, I didn’t renew my subscription to that particular publication, and subscribed to a literary magazine, instead.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about why magazines themselves continue to remain relevant. With more and more reporting taking place in real time, the death knell of print journalism has been tolled more times than we can tally. But the presses keep on churning out pages, and the lights stay on. There have been casualties of esteemed publications, sure, and there will continue to be. But if millennial consumers choose to take a more thoughtful, considered bent to their purchases -- as is their tendency -- there’s plenty of hope for magazines yet.
If you’ve got twenty bucks (sometimes less!) to spare, here are some reasons why you might want to “convert” from magazine reader to paying subscriber for a publication you care about.
Magazine subscriptions mean that publications can budget for reporters, editors, designers, illustrators, and all the other amazing people that they employ.
This is the biggest reason to subscribe to magazines. The affordability of most magazine subscriptions -- usually discounted to more than half the “cover price”, is in direct conflict with production costs and overhead. Magazines are able to cut out the distributor when they acquire a subscriber, but the discount off the newsstand price for subscribers is quite significant. Publishers are willing to drop prices so low for subscribers because of the stability that subscriptions provide in their bottom line. Relying on newsstand and bookstore sales is a far greater risk than building a budget based on subscriptions. Employee salaries and hiring decisions cannot be made on the hedged bet of hope that consumers will be buying issues; they have got to be based on proven demand and income projections, which subscriptions can concretely help predict.
The best journalists write for magazines and newspapers that pay them. The best journalists don’t let their pieces live online as click-bait. But if they aren’t getting paid, they have no choice but to migrate to digital spaces, which are often less conducive to thoughtful work. Magazine subscription metrics send a message that there are willing people with disposable income that are willing to spend it on timely, informative, tangible time capsule that is a magazine issue. This is information that publishers absolutely need to know.
Print magazines resist censorship when dailies and online-only publications cannot.
Print magazines have long been a subversive voice in dialogue with American politics and corporate mechanics. Because of the way print works, a strong feature article needs to hammer home its main points artfully while still carrying the potential for a slow burn; it’s not web copy, which flits and fans itself before it fades away.
Digital spaces need to produce a certain amount of “viral” content to attract advertisers. Traffic metrics make it similar to television in that way. As quickly as an audience member clicks on a channel or website, they may click away, and potential advertisers can see their “bounce rate.” Print doesn’t have that problem; either an issue sells, or it doesn’t, and if some of the articles inside don’t get as much attention as others, that’s not necessarily a deterrent to print them.
Target demographics of magazines are deeply understood and even respected as magazine consumers because print magazines want to attract loyal, stable subscribers. It’s humanizing and encourages dialogue between journalists and readers. Having content that’s not able to be easily searched or indexed, retweeted or reblogged, adds to the power of magazines to maintain a unique place within the dialogue, too. Something written in print is both capable of being shared simply and staying personal, private -- whether that be a personal letter, a magazine or any other artifact.
Print magazines -- even trashy ones -- contribute to cultural conversations and preserve the literary tradition of careful language.
Here at Upwrite, we’re obsessed with what we call “craft care.” Though we have high hopes for the continuing cultivation of a better internet space, the truth is that being pressed to produce content quickly, and without oversight, doesn’t lead us to choose our words carefully. Often online content is written in a hurry and goes up without editing. Online gaffes and premature releases have become an inevitable part of each day’s news cycle (hence the maddening and hazily defined term ‘fake news’ rising to prominence).
When we don’t strive to protect our language by using the right words, communication breaks down, and we have trouble understanding each other. Magazines, even at their most trite and tasteless, are “slow art”: structured, deliberate, and collaborative. Most are staffed by people that, at the very least, want to achieve the professional respect of their peers by delivering a decent product. Every magazine will have editorial weaknesses, but industry guidelines like the AP Style Guide streamline the editing process so that there are at least standards to judge these weaknesses by. The rapid turnover of memes, slang, and YouTube references are certainly entertaining, but without the stability that publications like magazines give to our language, we have few shared frames of reference.
Magazines are part of what keep us teetering on the brink of shared language instead of falling into the abyss of simply babbling to each other. But without subscription growth (not even stagnant subscription rates, but growth), they will continue to inch toward the endangered species list.
Here are some of our favorites to get you started. We hope you'll choose to subscribe to a magazine or two this year; it's kind of your duty as a person that knows how to read.
Disclaimer: these are affiliate links, which, if you hate affiliate links, maybe you should be reading a print magazine instead of our website?
The Atlantic: Our pick for rainy, thoughtful editorial pieces and expansive, well-written features.
Harper’s: For when you're craving some significant touchpoints to add to your cultural understanding.
Poets & Writers Magazine: Industry standard that's interview-heavy and features publication and employment opportunities, too.
Relevant Magazine: Shout out to our friend Aaron Hanbury, the print editor of this distinct voice for faith and culture among the millennial set.
Do you have any go-to magazines highlighting culture, faith, art, or any combination of the three that should be on our radar? Please share in the comments below!