Friday, May 21, 2010

Hope or hype? Video killed the radio star...

What might well be photos of the last of Kalef Alaton's work caused in a roundabout way an over-a-glass-of-wine conversation about the role of blogging and its possible consequences for print. I wondered – and I realize I might be coming late to this discussion – if blogs are contributing to the decline of magazines.

So, if one compares a blog to a magazine it is clear that there are similarities: each has a distinct personality... generally speaking there is something to be seen or read not available elsewhere... expectations in terms of subject and style are fulfilled and, with luck, the envelope is pushed – but not too far... there is consistency from issue to issue yet there is something new each time... an editor picks good stuff that appeals and presents it, along with some analysis, critique or background... and there is reliability in terms of frequency (be it monthly or weekly).

In short, a well-curated balance of the expected and the novel: in this way is a loyal following created.

So what about this is distinct from what a blog does? (I'm not even talking about those blogs that are so commercialized they are nothing but advertorial.) Are blogs competition for magazines?

To some extent I think they are, but do not expect this competition to be deadly. If one looks at past predictions of the imminent demise of this or that industry, it's clear that whatever was hoped or hyped did not come to pass. The movies did not kill live theatre. TV did not kill the movies. And neither has YouTube killed TV - we still watch them all.

There are two distinct differences between blogs and magazines, which encourage me to believe that both can co-exist. One is that most magazines are graphically better designed than the average blog – though there are notable exceptions. The second is that magazines look good on the coffee table and even the best-designed blog has a hard time doing that.

Talking about graphic design reminds me of another example of the overnight demise of a vast part of that industry caused by technology and software advances. A generation ago, it became possible to be one's own graphic designer. (Some of you may not be old enough to remember that it was ever any other way!) The problem is, it ain't that easy to be a graphic designer without the training - look at any locally produced magazine - Photoshop might make it easy to create but it does not teach one about communication or aesthetics. Today, the same is happening to video - look at YouTube – and when you do look at YouTube, you'll notice that although it's fun and all, actually making a compelling video is not that easy. So it is with blogging - templates enable but do not guarantee clarity of communication or compelling content.

The foregoing notwithstanding, many dearly loved magazines have bitten the dust recently – and the same has happened to newspapers. The causes are different, though both have to do with economics and advertising. Producing and distributing a glossy magazine or a newspaper are both expensive endeavors. In the case of magazines, advertising dollars vaporized with the drastic shrinking of the luxury market – but this is at least in part reversible as the economy revives. Newspapers, on the other hand, are imploding because the advertising they rely on has moved to the internet - to eBay and Craigslist, for example – and because the internet provides timely news updates better than a printed newspaper can. And those are changes which are not reversible. Where newspapers remain valuable is in their synopses, opinion and analysis... although these roles, too, are increasingly being taken over by online media. In fact, one might contend that, in this aspect, blogs are a greater threat to newspapers than to magazines.

Blogs may have given magazines some degree of competition by allowing anyone to become a writer, publisher and editor. But still, most magazines do it better in terms of aesthetics, content, advertorial and advertising than even the commercialized blogs I've seen. In the same way, YouTube does a brilliant job of showing that good video is actually hard (and usually expensive) to make, thereby proving it is no competition for TV. However engaging the umpteenth cute kitten video or Lady Gaga lip-sync, at a certain point one just wants to sit back and luxuriate in the professional production values of, say, True Blood.* And let's not forget that blogs also provide a proving ground for new talent that magazines are now beginning to cultivate.

Photos by Tim Street-Porter to accompany text written by Pilar Viladas for House and Garden, August 1989.

* June 13th, people!


  1. I've never really thought about blogs being a bit like online magazines before, but I can see the similarity. For myself, blogs are wonderful (or,at least, the ones I follow are). I am on such a tight income that magazines are a luxury that I simply cannot justify. Blogs satisfy the "article by article" approach that I enjoyed in magazines. But, unlike magazines, I am getting to know the bloggers, to get a feel for their hopes and aspirations, their dreams and accomplishments. Blogs are personal, and I think that, for me and my personality type, is more satisfying now than impersonal magazines.

  2. I thought I heard someone going through my clip files again---should have known it was you! I've kept the dining room picture forever---absolutely wonderful

    More thoughts about blogs and the 'death' of magazines later. I'm still noodling over all the interesting points you've made here, and questions raised.

  3. 1stly, How I would love to spirit away your files or tDED's (these things I covet) I got some good comments on this when I posted- according to an in the know magazine person-Not much is competing. I think magazines are quickly entering the blog world to cash in-they will, or purpose is to keep the history of our loves, professions alive. The magazines live by their advertisers. (Not to worry about that) I think of the LONNY mag experience-which is so so-content is all as far as what I read on a blog- forget the repetitious regurgititious(I know this is not a word-but it is most apropos)of blogs that load up pictures and then give it an !ENJOY!-
    (and people love that)pgt

  4. Hello, Lynne. Welcome to the Blue Remembered Hills. I agree about the personal side of most blogs, the non-commercialized ones I exclude as you know - and I find it interesting to learn something of the character behind the blog even if one has no visual to go by. Of course, we all edit by not placing this or that blog on our blog rolls - I link to those I can really read and enjoy. I might not always agree but there is always an intelligent conversation going on. Good to hear from you, and thank you.

    Dilettante, you heard - damn! I'm still noodling over them as well and probably will be for some time to come. BTW loved the house on the coast - those planked walls were superb.

  5. Two things: 1) the juxtaposition of the Chinoiserie chest and the Twombly is fabulous, and 2) let's face it, blogs can never really supplant a good glossy magazine. The average blogger does not have to resources to produce such spreads ~ the access to homes, stylists, photographers. What worries me is that with the loss of so many publications, where will these things be published?

  6. Media autopsy required a mere "follow the money" trail to find cause of death. When I started writing for a newspaper it was still letterpress making it closer to Gutenberg than to a computer. It is amazing the turf covered in 40 years. I wonder what the next phase will be. I think we are already seeing don't' become one!) fall under the work load without financial reward. Each day I learn something new from someone I have never met who toils to create for the pleasure of it, I do not take for granted.

    p.s. I love "hearing" you and DED talk to each other. What fun!

  7. Janet, in your question ".... where will these things be published?" goes right to the heart of my own questions about the future. We're looking at a turn in the road or even, without wishing to sound dramatic, an end of one road and the opening of another - a situation Little Augury points to when she mentions Lonny online magazine.

    Little Augury, I agree with you about Lonny's content being only so-so. For my taste it resembles Domino, a magazine I despised, and is too gender specific. What you said intersects with thoughts I'm having about online presentations in general and you've set me off thinking.

    home before dark - follow the money trail, of course. I too wonder what the next phase will be - only today I was thinking, when talking to a student at the Barclay Butera event, how we limit ourselves to the templates we are given and think in doing so we are being creative. There's a lot to think about here on this road we've taken, as you say, in the last 40 years. I learned to set type by hand when in college the first time and now I teach students in another field who use the words font, upper- and lower-case without really knowing what the origins are.

    I really appreciate your always-kind comments to my posts - and this is what makes blogging such a joy, this ongoing occasional conversation with people who as, you say, I don't know but have come to look forward to hearing from.

  8. I'm amazed that you think blogs are not killing magazines when you are stealing magazine images, scanning them and re-posting them!! Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?? of course blogs are killing magazines. Us design junkies can get our fill of images and talk about them online without going near a news stand.

  9. at the risk of an ugly Anon rearing it head at little augury- I must say, he/she obviously does not read this blog- Blue's-because I have never seen any current photographs from the magazines used. Stealing? rePosting? No not here. Magazines are likely to kill independent blogs. Little or No history of design Or beautiful old rooms are featured in HB, Elle etc- I don't think magazines revere design history in the least-as exhibited by their content, and there own limited vision on interiors that are unique. It all looks alike after a year or two of getting monthly issues-somewhat like reposting. I think the interior design field as truly NEW with ideas, unique, enviable spaces is over. It may be that magazines are killing Interior Design-& in turn killing themselves. pgt

  10. little augury - very interesting observation "It may be that magazines are killing interior design and in turn killing themselves." I realize in that one sentence you've expressed what in my mind had not yet surfaced and I think you might be right. At least, the idea is worth investigating.

    You're right about the sameness of magazine content - inevitable I suppose when decorators who know little of color are published by editors who themselves seemingly prefer neutrality over character.