The Medium IS Still the Message 50 Years Later… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.

April 28, 2014

photo(4) Marshall McLuhan said it best: “The medium is the message.” We live in a digital age, that is a fact. However, that statement is as true now as it was when McLuhan first said it in 1964, as it applies to both digital and print.

McLuhan’s statement is as valid today as it was 50 years ago. The medium cannot be separated from the message. So when it comes to print, I firmly believe that in order for print to survive, magazines and newspapers have to create something that eliminates the disposability factor. Print cannot afford to be expendable the way it used to be. Newspapers can’t lose their engagement with their audience in 10 or 15 minutes. They have to have an inherited engagement for at least 24 hours of their existence before the new issue comes out.

Weeklies have to do the same thing. They can’t just be a momentary read; they must engage readers with in-depth articles, concise reporting, analyses, editorials and opinions.

Monthlies must have the feel of a coffee table magazine and provide that high-gloss quality of a quarterly magazine.

Daily newspapers must become weeklies on a daily basis. Weekly magazines and newspapers must become monthlies on a weekly basis and monthly magazines must become coffee table publications.

However, the industry is preaching one thing and practicing another by cutting staff, trimming page sizes, choking production costs and any other integral part of the publishing business that it deems disposable. Magazines and newspapers are using cutting as a means for profitability. The bare bones will begin to poke through and eventually will leave a hole in the industry’s side too big to fix. Cutting is not a strategy to profitability.

While readers and advertisers are not personally affected by the size of the staff, they are when it comes to end product. The best example of this, as of late, is the weight of the paper. Certain magazines are now being printed and published on paper that is thinner than tissue paper. And because it is apropos of the context of that statement, tissue paper is not made to last; it’s made to be thrown away.

When I receive a magazine that has the feel of tissue paper, my thoughts are that this is a disposable item and there is no value in it… even before I read a single word of the content.

Frank Luther Mott, the author of A History of American Magazines, and the founding Dean of the Missouri School of Journalism (for the record, my Ph.D. is from Missouri School of Journalism) wrote in the first volume of his book that the definition of a magazine is much more than just content or a storehouse of information. It’s the form of the magazine, being printed, bound and stapled, etc. That is what the magazine is: the actual physical, tangible component of the product.

Therefore, when we send those publications to our audience, whether on the newsstands or via subscriptions, the first impression they are going to get, after looking at the cover, is the feel and the weight of that magazine in their hand.

mf1 I recently received my subscription copy of Men’s Fitness magazine and as always I went to the newsstand and bought the same issue just to compare the different cover designs. And guess what? Aside from the different cover designs, the newsstand copy is almost double the weight of the subscription copy. Why? (The red logo is the newsstands copy and the silver one is the subscribers… guess which one of the two is standing tall?”)

mf2 The answer for the most part, I’m sure, would be: we are saving on paper because that ultimately saves on postage, along with a multitude of other generic excuses that we hear from publishers of magazines. Yes, I used the word “excuses.” (As a side-bar, I wonder which of the two copies advertisers and ad agencies receive?)

Why do magazines punish their valued subscriber who trusts them and order and pay for an entire subscription year with a product as inferior as a couple of sheets of tissue paper? Does that make any sense to anyone out there? It certainly doesn’t to me.

Those magazines available on newsstands are misleading the future subscribers by giving them a far superior product when they make a single copy purchase. Again, does that make sense to anyone? And again, not to me.

Another example of this sad situation is when I received my Sports Illustrated magazine this week. While I know that issue is only 64 pages, it felt more like a pamphlet than a magazine. The paper is so thin you can see through it to the articles on the next page. It doesn’t have the feel that I’m appreciated as a subscriber.

What I’m trying to say with this Mr. Magazine™ Musing is that if you decide that you’re going to continue to be in print, you have to invest in your print product. It isn’t an option. You must invest in quality print and quality paper.

As Marshall McLuhan said: the medium is the message. That first impression is going to determine whether the audience engages with the publication. The feel, the touch, as well as the smell are essential.

Some might say that I’m preaching to feed the eye instead of the brain; but that’s what being human is all about. We are visual animals and a visual society. Remember, sight and feel are what it’s all about for the first impression. Your value is delivered at the same time your product is: when the customer first sees and touches it.

If you are like me and believe that the medium is the message, my message to you is invest in print. Because the future of digital starts with print.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning
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One comment

  1. Great post. I totally agree with your rationale on first impressions / perceived value of the product. Definitely a challenge when muscling together a new magazine, as well as reorienting established pubs. I also especially loved your last comment about how the future of digital starts with print. I’ve always believed that print drives internet. (That message can easily get lost in the sales process, sadly.) I just posted similarly about product / value on my blog. Would love your thoughts. marketingwhatsthat.com.

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