Mr. Magazine™ & BoSacks: So What Is A Magazine, Really? Point & Counterpoint From The Vault….

October 7, 2021

The following point & counterpoint, between my friend BoSacks and I, on attempting to define a magazine was first published on my blog and in the ACT Experience magazine of 2010. I believe it is still as valid today as it was in 2010. Enjoy.

Point: So What Is A Magazine, Really?

By Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

President & CEO, Magazine Consulting & Research, Inc.

Being in the content business and being in the magazine business are two completely different worlds. While the magazine business deals with content, content is only but a fraction of what makes a magazine. The myth that is now sweeping our industry that we are content providers and it does not matter how our customers get their information may be the Trojan horse that will aid some publishers continue on their print suicide path.

Content is good and content will continue to be king and queen of our profession, but magazines are not going to live and survive by content alone. It never stops to amaze me how the majority of people jumped on the bandwagon of equating magazines to music and wanted to sell magazines like the iTune store sells music. I said that before and I will say again, the only similarity between magazines and music is the letter m. Everything else is different. As a child I listened to music on the little transistor radio. Later I listened to records, tapes and even listened to music on television. I listened to my favorite songs over and over. I used earphones, loud speakers, any and all the things created to help me listen to the music. The goal was always to listen to my favorite song over and over again. I did not care how the song was broadcasted or delivered. I was not holding to that radio or television set, because the medium did not matter in that case. It was the message that mattered. It was so easy to separate the message from the medium, and it did not matter what medium delivered that message to me, because my addiction was to the message that I kept listening to, time after time. It was not a message meant for a one-time use. The physical medium was just the vehicle to deliver the message and it was never part of the message.

That brings me back to the printed magazine. Like music, each and every magazine can be used as a medium to deliver a message, but if that was all what magazines do, than we would have been out of business long time ago and we would have one format, maybe an iMagazine that delivers all the content you need to select and choose from for your daily needs, wants and desires. 

Magazines are much more than content. Magazines are much more than information, words, pictures and colors all combined in a platform that serves nothing but as a delivery vehicle. Magazines, each and every one and each and every issue of every one, are a total experience that engages the customers five senses. Nothing is left to chance. It is a total package. Without the ink, the paper, the touch, the smell, the look, the taste, it will not be called a magazine. Every issue is a complete new experience with a sense of ownership, showmanship and membership and is renewed with the arrival of the next issue. The total experience of flipping through the pages of a magazine, looking at the different dimensions, shapes, and other physical properties (including the colors we use on every issue whether it is the famous TIME red border or National Geographic yellow border) create a unique relationship with the customer issue after issue. 

So before we close the book on this great technology we call ink on paper and start moving with the tide of this new digital world, stop and think for a moment on what makes a magazine a magazine and why in this digital age millions of magazines worldwide are still thriving in ink on paper creating daily experiences, one issue at a time. Magazines are much more than content and they are even much more than ink on paper. The total physical aspect of each “storehouse” to use the original meaning of what a magazine is include all of its properties, from the size of the store to the content of the store, seen and felt together.

Take time and think about it. The digital age is helping us create new platforms and new media, but do not fool yourself and think you can recreate a similar experience to that we have in ink on paper magazines. It is one of a kind and I if we only devote five percent of our time, money and energy in this digital age focusing on how to enhance this existing ink on paper technology and what it is delivering, our business will be in a much better shape. Magazines are not just content providers, they are experience makers, one printed issue at a time. And, if it is not ink on paper, please try to find another name to define that new medium, because in my book if it is not printed it is not a magazine. I am living the digital age (you name the gadget I have it, including the iPad) but I am not living in a dream world. I have yet to see anything comes close to what an ink on paper magazine can deliver and do for its customers at such a great feel, not to mention a great price too. Go grab a magazine, any magazine and then let’s start talking about experience making! 

Counterpoint: So What Is A Magazine, Really?

By Bo Sacks

Founder & President, Precision Media Group

 As most of you know I have been debating my friend Samir Husni across the country for almost a decade. He is an admitted tree hugger and I lean mightily towards a digital future for our industry. Our debates are great fun not only for the audience but for the two of us as well. We enjoy taking opposite sides of important magazine issues. 

As you might expect when I saw the headline of his recent posting “So, What is a Magazine, Really?” I started reading with great interest. That is when I read the following lines by Samir 

“Without the ink, the paper, the touch, the smell, the look, the taste, it will not be called a magazine.” … And, if it is not ink on paper, please try to find another name to define that new medium, because in my book if it is not printed it is not a magazine.”

From my perspective these words and thoughts couldn’t be more wrong. I firmly believe that ink is not one of the major components necessary for a magazine. 

In working with my partners at mediaIdeas five years ago we developed a set of criteria for the definition of a magazine. We believe that a magazine must be paginated, edited, designed, date stamped, permanent, and periodic. But it does not have to use either ink or paper to be an ‘official’ magazine. Ink and paper are an unnecessary restriction in the 21st century. Of course, a magazine can be printed with ink on paper, but to demand that it be so is unrealistic and would doom an otherwise vibrant industry to the monasteries of time long past. 

The best-selling book of all times was originally written on a scroll. Then eventually printed on paper by our friend Guttenberg. The Bible is now available digitally. Does the digital delivery mean it’s not a book? I think rather that the words and thinking that are important and not the substrate. 

Of course, it may not be fair but I can’t help pointing out that Samir delivered his article “So What is a Magazine Really?” in a digital blog and not in a printed magazine.

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