Magazines 2041: The Present Is The Future…*

October 10, 2019

© 2019 By Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

It’s a daunting task to try and think about what the world of print will look like in 2041 as the American magazine industry celebrates its 300th anniversary. While trying to see the future of the industry, almost a quarter century from now, I began to think back to when I first fell in love with magazines, more than a half century ago. Did my imagination live up to what really happened? Can I relive all the changes that have taken place since?

More than fifty years ago I was a teenager in Tripoli, Lebanon when I befriended the wholesaler who served all of Tripoli. Before school, I would go by his shop once a day, where I would look at all the magazines being distributed to shop owners and newsstands and admire the ones getting ready to leave the warehouse and head to the stands. Ultimately this would make me late. One day he decided to take pity on me and told me to come by the evening before so that I wouldn’t get in trouble for being late over and over again.

A Kid In The Candy Store

I was like a kid in a candy store. Each weekday I would be see the magazines before anyone else in town, and my friend the wholesaler would even let me take copies home with me. I became one of his newsagents who would order only one copy of each magazine. Having early access to tomorrow’s publications was a part of the experience that those magazines created within me. The paper, the ink, the photos, the stories all of it formed an interactive relationship, between the magazines and me that got me hooked and kept giving me reasons to return day after day.

Fast forward some 42 years, I am in the United States sitting in my house in my new home country, far away from my home in Lebanon, and reading a Lebanese newspaper. Yes, reading the same paper published in Lebanon on the same day of publication. If you told me that 50 years ago, I would have laughed at you and accused you of being crazy. I never would have believed you. But today, with the eight-hour time difference I can sit at my computer in the evening and see the next day’s newspaper from Lebanon before it hits newsstands. Once I download the paper and hit print, I know it will be sitting in the printer at my office the next morning. Crazy has become reality.

The first issue of Superman magazine published in Jan. 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon

Since I first picked up a copy of a Superman comic book when I was a boy and became hooked on ink on paper, I have always wanted to pick up a magazine to lose myself in its pages. No changes in technology can ever replace that. So instead of talking about technology and how it will change the industry over the next 22 years, editors and publishers need to continue to ask the question: How can I provide quality content and an engaging experience in my publication for those looking to interact with the print platform? The industry has to ask that question because each time prospective customers pick up a product, they ask themselves the exact same thing: what is in it for me? This is what I fondly call the WIIIFM factor.

While many things have changed in the last 42 years and many things will continue to change over the next 22 the experience will always stay the same. Compared to when I was a teenager, printing quality is better, publications are more specialized, magazine dimensions have greater range and marketing may be more exact and targeted. However, I still go to magazines for the experience I can only have with ink on paper. It’s ONLY experience where I can “lose myself” through it and in it.

Amplifying The Future Of Print

This is why I have created the Magazine Innovation Center. The sole purpose of this organization is to amplify the future of print. Print is not a dead medium with nothing to offer, and it should stop bemoaning its own demise. The magazine industry has become stagnant in an economy that calls for movement and change. It just takes the right thinking to get there. Because there will be changes, and there is no way around it. Change is the only constant in our lives.

Progress will be made, but progress for the sake of progress moves you no closer to a better future. The industry is already seeing progress with smaller printers, more advanced office printers, virtual publications, instant delivery of printed products to your desktop and personal printer and even a drastic decline in waste in the printing and distribution world. While in all of this the industry can stay current with technology and the like, it still doesn’t change the fact that the experiences the customers have with that particular magazine or magazines must continue to be engaging and interactive. When you lose sight of that, you can’t regain ground with gimmicks on the internet or special inks on the covers.

One of the biggest changes will be in mentality about everything. The industry has to change the way it thinks about how publications are done and how business is conducted. I have been saying for quite some time that the way magazine media conducts business is outdated and acting as an anchor for the industry. It cannot continue to give content away for a devalued price or for free while advertising reigns as the make or break factor in publications. If publications create good content, people will want to read it and to pay for it.

For more than 60 years, the majority of the industry has relied on a publishing model that devalued subscribers and focused heavily on the customers supplying advertising, not the customers who they were actually supposed to reach: the readers themselves.

I know it may be disappointing to some of you that my forecast for the next 22 years is based on the last 50, but would I have believed when I was walking to the wholesaler in Tripoli that 50 years later, I would be reading magazines and newspapers from thousands of miles away in the exact same way?

The Present Is The Future

There are three things that the future will benefit from if it is constantly considered. First, focus on the present. For all the talk about tomorrow and next year, there is no point planning for the future if you can’t survive today.

Second, publications must create the complete experience. As everything changes around us, publications must provide a total package to reach readers. They don’t need to create something that relies on another medium to finish the job. Readers shouldn’t have to go to another source to get the rest of the story. Henry Luce recognized this a century ago when he started TIME magazine. With over 20 newspapers in New York City at the time, he saw that readers wanted a one-stop alternative to get their news in less time and space.

Third, there will be a more compelling need to know the readers. With increased technology, it is becoming easier to know more about readers. Publishers have to start treating them like customers: know what they want, who they are, what they read and what they buy. The more they let technology help them learn about their readers, the better they can serve them as customers.

I know you expected me to write about the future and create a vision of the next 22 years, there are only two people who can tell the future: God and a fool. I know I am not God, but if you want to read it, here is a future scenario from a fool. Everything I have written up to this point I can guarantee, but feel free to read the rest at your own risk.

Fantasy Time

In 2041, I will receive a package in the mail (yes, the mail will still be delivered). I place the package on my desk, open it and find a magazine called Samir’s, the magazine about my lifestyle. The cover has a striking image of exactly what I am wearing except in a different color. It is trendy, hip and relevant. In big type below the title is a tagline that screams “The magazine you can read, listen to and watch.” I open the cover and turn to the first of the 90 high quality glossy pages. As I open it I am greeted by a screen in the middle of the pages, a disposable screen with a menu that allows me to interact with the magazine in different ways unique to the articles. After I have read a great review about the latest Britney Spears Golden Oldies collection, I have the option of opening the interactive screen to view videos from years gone by. The paper provides me with the experience I have always loved and cherished. I am able to touch and feel the pages while the interactive screen hooks me with its multimedia experience. With all the benefits, it still remains under $15, ensuring that I won’t feel guilty leaving it behind after I have enjoyed it exactly like disposing of a chocolate bar’s wrapper after I can eat it. Inside the magazine are subscription offers for Samir’s sister publication Elliott (one of my grandsons), the magazine for grandchildren.

Back To Reality

Time to wake up. Years from now, I will be still reading the magazines the same way I read them today and some 50 years ago. Others may be engaged in futuristic types of new media. As for me, the past, the present and the future are all summed up in that wonderful “lose myself” experience while reading the printed magazine. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just see me 22 years from now as we celebrate the magazine’s 300th anniversary and you will see if my present is still my future.


*A slightly different version of this article appeared in the German magazine GIT on its 40th anniversary in 2009.

One comment

  1. […] be disappointing to some of you that my forecast for the next 22 years is based on the last 50,” Husni writes in his blog, “but would I have believed when I was walking to the wholesaler in Tripoli that 50 years later, […]

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