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!