Magazines: The First Social Networks… From The Mr. Magazine™ Vault. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

March 1, 2019

(In 2009, in the summer issue of Content, the magazine of branded content, I wrote a column under the heading of Mr. Custom, that I feel is as valid today as it was ten years ago… I hope you will enjoy).

As we rush to take advantage of the latest digital tools to engage with consumers, let’s not forget that magazines are still a powerful medium for building communities.

Began at a very early age. From the first time I picked up a copy of a Superman comic book and could feel the paper and smell the ink, I was grabbed by a passion that shows no signs of letting go. I can also remember how badly I wanted to belong, to have a sense of membership, in the field of magazines. I would beg my neighbor (in Lebanon, my home country) to nominate me for membership in the National Geographic Society, just so I could receive the magazine.

These days, the National Geographic Society (and a lot of other magazine publishers are) the ones doing the begging. And just about every other magazine out there is doing the same. We receive subscription offer cards and mailings that tell us we can get 50%, 75% or even 95% off the cover price. Americans no longer have to dream about becoming part of a club like the National Geographic Society. Now it’s as simple as having a few bucks and an address. We have forgotten that magazines were media’s first social networks, and it’s time for us to remember and reclaim four key ways in which magazines help bring people together.

The first area is community. Magazines have always been great vehicles for not just building community, but being catalysts to community. Social networking today is a series of sites with short, terse status updates and wall posts. These quick bursts are not substantial enough to hold a community together. The 140 characters of a Twitter post might be great for sending someone to your blog or splashing a news headline, but they are far too few to do what magazines have always done well.

Twitter provides snippets or sound bites; you can’t build a brand on sound bites. The passionate relationship that grows the kind of true community we find in the pages of magazines cannot be achieved via social networking sites. Magazines do a much better job of building a community of shared interests.

A second key area wherein magazines thrive is in membership, offering consumers an opportunity to be part of an exclusive growth. Magazines have lost some of their membership cachet over the past decade through their increasing willingness to give away their content for free. It seems the days of waiting for your favorite magazine to arrive in the mail box are over. Now all we do is check the magazine’s site or follow them on Twitter or Facebook, and we instantly have most of their content.

As a result of this process, the information provided by magazines is becoming less unique – more a commodity than a privilege. We have come to feel we deserve unfettered access to free content, so our sense of membership is largely gone.

Third, magazines provide great interactivity. Sure, many naysayers will point out that the Internet provides an easy-to-use forum for immediate reader response and the chance for magazines and the marketers to engage with broader range of consumers, but interactivity isn’t just about speed and reach.

Magazines are an ongoing conversation with readers that begins with a cover and never ends. There have been some terrific magazine covers over the last 12 months that were very powerful in starting conversations, serving as building blocks for interactivity. If you have followed the covers of Esquire, you know what I mean. From their “e-cover” to their window and paneled covers, Esquire has been starting conversations with readers in some of the most effective ways ever.


A magazine cover’s opening dialogue with readers is very important because it lays the foundation for the rest of the conversation. This conversation begins in print, and can be flashed out with the Internet. I’ve always told my clients the websites and magazines should not stand alone. You need both to survive, and they can not thrive independently. Magazines should send readers to the Web to submit feedback, letters, recipes or whatever applies to that title; in turn, sites should drive readers to the next issue to learn about the winners of an online competition, or which online suggestions the editors used.

The fourth way that magazines bridge social gaps and bring people together is the relationship readers have with the products. Recently I spoke with John Gower, director of custom publisher Future Plus US, and he says it best. “Social networks are good at helping to retain relationships,” Gower says, “but it takes a magazine to acquire those relationships in the first place.”

It may be difficult for some of us to see a light at the end of tunnel right now for magazines. Gower warns that if we look at magazines simply as “nice to have,” then the light is a train coming to hit us. We have to remember that magazines are the original social networks, and continue to nurture consumers’ needs and desires for them. That is the only way the light at the end of tunnel will turn out to be the daylight we’re all hoping is just ahead.

Magazines are matchmakers in our society. They bring families of brands and consumers together. While digital social media tools may help brands reach more people and stay more involved in their daily lives, they can never match the power of a printed magazine that was built on the concept of social networking. Content magazine, Number 6, Summer 2009

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on NCMA.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: