What author Ruth Jamieson is getting at with the beguiling title of her wonderful new book, Print is Dead. Long Live Print (Prestel), a survey of some of the world’s best independent magazines, isn’t that print is dead—I think we can safely put that tired argument to rest at this point—but that traditional print is dying. Independent efforts, on the other hand, are positively thriving.
“Fewer magazines may be being bought in total, but the number of titles on offer has never been greater,” Jamieson says. Magculture’s Jeremy Leslie says he sees between 10-20 new indie magazines launch each month, whereas “it’s difficult to recall the last big launch from a major publishing house.” There’s no single reason why the indie mags are outpacing the big glossies, but it’s probably not a coincidence that one thing all the topnotch indies have in common is good design.
Ardent indie mag readers will no doubt be familiar with most, if not all the titles Jamieson has chosen to represent each category (art, fashion, food, etc.), but as Leslie points out, the book “is an excellent introduction for newcomers, and will be looked back on as an essential record of this era… While not positioned as a how-to guide, anyone thinking of launching a magazine will find plenty to help them here.”
If you are, in fact, looking to start up your own publication, Print is Dead will not only give you a good lay of the land (a.k.a. your competition) plus plenty of visual inspiration to boot, it identifies the mistakes made by large publishers—learn from them. One issue the independents will never have to worry about, though, is the red tape that comes with corporate status. Big Print, on the other hand, continues to struggle to adapt to industry changes while they watch the nimble indies quickstep around them.
Aside from agility, another thing small mags have going for them is serious digital savvy. Unlike the large pubs, they aren’t threatened by online publishing. On the contrary, “successful indie mags don’t try to beat digital media at its own game,” Jamieson says. “They focus on the things only print can do. And they do them very, very well. They revel in the physicality of the magazine. They play with format. They mix paper stocks. They publish long, luxurious articles and photo essays that take months to research and hours to read and absorb. They lovingly craft issues that are beautiful, collectible, and timeless objects.”
Print is Dead may not luxuriate in long interviews and articles—something Jamieson might want to consider for a second edition—but it does devote plenty of page space to the magazines that are doing it best right now.