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Why Magazines Are Like Sailboats

“Mr. Andersen, who now writes books and hosts a public radio show, said that magazines might eventually gain a cult following akin to the interest around other obsolete media, like vinyl records.”

‘Eventually, they’ll become like sailboats,’ he said. ‘They don’t need to exist anymore. But people will still love them, and make them and buy them.'”

The New York Times (external link) is out today with an article entitled “The Not So Glossy Future of Magazines.” It’s chiefly focused on high-end magazines (they mention six figure photo shoots and five dollar a word writers), never-the-less, it is a good read because it chronicles the decline of advertising revenue which has caused the wage floor for writers to collapse.

So, what kind of sailboats will we have in the future? Most likely there will be a small fleet and one not composed of mega-yachts. But some publications should live on, even if they are in .pdf. Note that most types are not solely dependent of advertising revenue.

In-house magazines or magazines sent to members as part of their dues

Magazines like Via, the magazine of the American Automobile Association, or Lion Magazine, the magazine for Lions International members, are publications subsidized in part by dues. They keep members informed and entertained. Many are still open to freelancers.

Government published titles

Magazines like Outdoor California, a publication of  California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, still accept freelance writers and should continue publishing into the future. The aptly titled State Magazine, an imprint of the U.S. Department of State, is a publication that will no doubt continue, independent of any need for advertising revenue.

In-flight magazines

Catering to a captive audience, in-flight magazines are the last literary refuge for the bored and weary traveler. These titles should continue, even though they rely on advertising to a degree. And they will still be competitive. It is very hard to get published in Hemispheres, United Airline’s title, or Southwest: The Magazine. But they are still both open to freelancers.

Hobby magazines

Magazines for hobbyists and enthusiasts should continue, despite declines in advertising. And the more expensive the hobby, the more likely a magazine will succeed. Look at the camera hobby; I think there are at least three magazines that cover Canon alone. Nikon is similarly serviced. But you really have to know your subject here to succeed as a freelancer.

What other opportunities exist for the freelancer as advertising declines? Editing. Both for print and internet writing. As fewer freelance writers are employed, articles will often be written by subject matter specialists who are not as polished as professional freelancers. Their writing will need to be cleaned up and sometimes more extensively rewritten. Part of my job for my Vancouver employer is to edit the work of two Pilipina writers. Their writing is solid but there are always two to three mistakes on each page that would not be made by a native speaker.

The caveat to developing editing skills is that content providers may continue to cut costs by cutting out editors. Yahoo News, for example, seems to be edited by the writers themselves. I personally am a much better writer than an editor. Let’s hope this self-editing trend does not continue. Magazines may indeed become like sailboats but a captain is still needed for each one.


By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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