Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture and End-Times?

The debate as to whether or not blogs can affect magazines is over, I guess, though I wonder now if we were just looking in the wrong direction when that discussion began, because it is undeniable that the design industry and its magazines take an interest, to say the least, in blogs. Before I go on, let me say that today's post will be a bit discursive, but there is a point, if not three intertwined - one being that yesterday I had a not-entirely-rapturous experience and am frustrated enough to write about it critically - something I rarely do. However, I will get to the rapture or lack of it shortly.

Generally speaking, I have been skeptical about the interest taken by the design industry in blogs and bloggers - to wit the number of fests and conferences organized for our benefit and for which we are asked to pay attendance fees and all our own expenses - travel, lodging and food. I wonder, more than a little cynically, what's in it for me? I pay, I travel, I meet, I listen, I view, I discuss, and then I go home and do what? Well, it's implicit, of course, that I go home and I blog and tweet about my hosts and my happiness at being included, thereby creating free publicity for the organizers the event, whether magazines or design firms, getting them higher in Google search rankings. I am, thus, quite clear about what is not in it for me.

A Los Angeles Times' headline that " says it's selling 80% more downloaded books than hardcovers" has enormous implications for the magazine industry - implications that are certainly not lost on the editors or publishers. I glanced at this issue of e-publication, if issue it is, in my post Poof! when I wrote of how easy it will be when I travel to take a number of books and magazines downloaded to my iPad rather than to schlepp physical copies.

Even from what little I know, it's clear that producing a magazine is an enormously complex, labor-intensive, physical and costly process - a process that begins with editorial decisions: commissioning writers and photographers; organizing photo shoots; reviewing results and making selections; designing the layout of pages allowing for the of number of pages and number of advertisements; fact-checking and proof-reading - this all before anything goes to print and all taking place in various offices.

At the printer, proofs are reviewed; printer does imposition (how multiple pages fit on larger sheet of paper on the printing press); printing; trimming; binding; bundling and then distribution to newsstands, bookstores and subscribers (of whom a database of street addresses must be maintained) and part of the distribution process is also dealing with the returns, transporting and disposal of unsold magazines.

All in all, a very resource-intensive process, the production of a magazine, and I have not even mentioned one other side of the business - advertising sales - an enormous department of itself with its own overheads and processes, that generates the revenues that finance almost all of the preceding.

It seems to me, and this is happening I think, that if magazines are to survive in any economic form they must go digital. Imagine how much of the process outlined above can be eliminated if a digital format becomes the norm. The editorial staff can do without, and possibly already are so doing, expensive real estate. The printing side of the business can be eliminated as can distribution. I realize that what I am also saying is that many a job will also be eliminated - a situation we saw in the 1980s with the invention of software that enabled graphic designers to go from computer to printer without the need for separations houses and other ancillary trades. Think also of the parallels with the present precarious situation of selling books. End times, indeed.

For those of us who like books, compilations of magazine articles could regularly be published, much in the way (see above) Architectural Digest published its compilations in a series called The Worlds of Architectural Digest, though that perhaps is wishful thinking rather than likelihood, for if, as the LA Times headline suggests then the publishing world in general is already beyond crisis point. You might think that there will always be a need for magazines and books - and you might well be right - but it is not to be expected that either will continue to take the form we have come know, love and collect. What might it all mean for blogs is for a later post.

Now, the rapture, or as I write above, the lack of it. This week I have attended a number of presentations by well-known decorators - events I was looking forward to, not rapturously, but certainly with great pleasure. All with the exception of one were worth the trouble and rewardingly so. One, with whom I spent a while conversing, is one of the most attractively intelligent and witty women I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Putting cynicism to one side, I know as must we all, that the reward of listening to the greats and looking at slide shows of photographs from their latest book, is that we get to buy a signed copy of the book and we can feel, however distantly, we've rubbed noses with celebrity. We might even be entertained and learn something.

If I were to be quite plain-spoken about the one I had very much looked forward to listening to and was so disappointed in, I could say I have not listened to such a simperingly self-satisfied, blasé and disheveled, but mercifully short, load of twaddle in a very long time.  As I say, if I were to be plain-spoken ...

Book cover photograph by Jaime Ardiles-Arce published by Architectural Digest in the series, The Worlds of Architectural Digest, 1979.


  1. BL, I'm disappointed because you surely must be able to trust, after all, that your readers consider your findings with high confidence. Therefore, to read the cathartic denunciation which is so unlike you, rather than the reasoned critique from which we could have profited, is to feel we have seen not more BL, but less. In this comment, I'm not unaware of professional codes of courtesy, but your mode of following them has escaped that professional communication which we know you can control so well, that we can perceive the gravity of your concern, while your relationships can remain serviceable, at least.

    I'm not in your field and yet its analogies to my interests are strong enough, for me to be certain of two things. First, your reserve of learning is sufficiently apparent to inoculate your judgments for a free range of expression, everyone remaining not merely entitled, but better enabled to demur. In this position you are almost 'ridiculously' outstanding in criticism, in general, and in your field in particular. The second is not quite so redundant as it seems. Because you take such care to portray a frame of reference for your approbation, it feels aberrant not to pursue a reservation with the same benevolence.

    Of course, it's none of my business to say any of this, and you may suppress this comment in any mode you like.

  2. I can imagine you are Not surprised- I have about 6 to 8 magazines waiting to still be leafed through- 3 from the UK May I am sure, and the others June. little interest there for me, why I still subscribe to some, I have left several housey ones go this year.pgt

  3. Now, Blue, tell us what you really think!

    Of course, I agree with you. Unfortunately, seminars are more about the organizers and the presenters, and not for the paying attendees. But that is the way it goes. I can hardly wait, however, because I feel sure that you got more out of it than you are saying here.

  4. Laurent, believe me, I was holding back. Suspension of disbelief in this industry is a given but there surely have to be times when the bitten bite back!

  5. The Devoted Classicist, thank you. You're right, of course, I did get a lot out of this week's events and I am still processing it all. Even just reading your comment has crystalized an idea which will no doubt surface in a future post. Again, thank you!

  6. Little Augury, thank you. I have chosen to take three magazines on subscription - one I have mentioned a number of times as having taken since 1983 and that will remain as long as one of us survives. The other two, frankly, have become so tedious and whereas I used to think it is because I feel I have seen it all before, and not only once, I now think they illustrate the lack of education, standards and creativity rife in modern decorating.

  7. Hello:
    We fully appreciate the sentiments you express here and can understand your concerns about feeling manipulated by those 'Greeks bearing gifts'.

    For our own part, perhaps the last people in the world not to own an e-book, we are indeed alarmed at the way in which it appears that only 'blockbusters' make it to the bookshop shelves whilst lesser known gems remain unpublished.

    In all areas of the Arts, for us what distinguishes the great from the merely, if barely, adequate, is a grounding in the very discipline which the 'celebrity' claims to be a part. Without this, in our view, it is style without substance, new versions of the Emperor's Clothes.

  8. Blue, I have not been to any of the infamous blog conferences. I live vicariously through the attendees ensuing images and reports on the latest and greatest in social media. The newest designs in fabrics and furnishings.

    I am sure there is great merit in some of these and would love to meet some of my blog friends.

    As for my blog, it has always been more to promote artists of all genres, entrepreneurs, interior designers, architects and collectors.

    To give back in ant way that I can.

    Art by Karena

  9. My mom taught me never to discurse so I don't think I'd ever gotten a "load of twaddle" past her.

    I wish the blogs and the magazines would to produce some criticism.

  10. Jane and Lance Hattatt, thank you. I cannot agree with you more. The Emperor's new clothes, indeed.

  11. Karena, thank you. The range of art and design blogs is amazing and what I really like is the way some bloggers write so beautifully about what interests or even obsesses them. It's the writing that catches me every time.

  12. Terry, thank you. Your mama did right! Ah, yes, criticism or, rather, critique - not going to happen, unfortunately.

  13. A load of twaddle and I have yet to finish my second cup of coffee! You led us down a very interesting crossroad of past/future just as I was starting my morning meandering on the not so slight difference between rapture and rupture.

    The digital magazines to date are a huge disappointment over and over again because it seems they have adopted the same template and just drop in different (sometimes not!) items. The print magazines, except for WOI, seems soul and direction less as we continue to assaulted by their full-page fear diatribe on the difference between "surfing and swimming."

    As for blogfests, I worry about the "mass marketing" in reverse that has little concern over ethics, much less copyright. It all makes being 61 a bit easier to take. I fear that future evolution of the human will lead to two oversized thumbs from all that texting and a much smaller brain. My antidote is to keep collecting books, go into my library and close the door.

  14. On book selling parties -agreed, they just want your money! You will pay full price for these books at the party, whereas at amazon you pay 2/3 list (or less if you buy them used as I often do). Much like you, I find these lectures to be really enjoyable events with the odd bad experience to contend with (a very unagreeable experience with a well known male designer has left me with a bitter taste towards his work).
    On the other two subjects, I have such mixed feelings that I shall just keep my mouth shut but admit I appreciate you broached the topic publicly!

  15. home before dark, thank you.

    I agree fully about the digital magazines being a huge disappointment. I have yet to open one that keeps my interest. I wonder if it is because I am not the right generation, for these magazines seem, as did the defunct Domino, aimed at a group that has little disposable income, wishes to appear stylish but has little discernment. Also, the format, as you point out is just a drop-in template and very unwieldy. The one value, though not necessarily to me, is that frequently one click on an item in a photograph and be taken to the seller's site. As I say, not of value to me, but then I'm not really in the market for new stuff - I need to get rid of rather than add.

    I too continue to collect books and am thankful for it!

  16. ArchitectDesign, thank you.

    Interesting, isn't it, how a disagreeable experience can put one off someone's work and prevent one ever looking at them in the same way again. And, the other way round of course - I bought Alexa Hampton's book then and there, despite having one on order at Amazon. I spent some time talking with her and I was totally charmed.

    As to the other subjects of the post - I too have very mixed feelings, though (I think) am also clear-sighted about what is happening. It needs to be discussed.

  17. Interesting and I have to say I agree with you for the most part. In my past life in retail marketing I saw first hand what the consolidation of retail and online distribution did to newspapers and magazines. Much of the destruction was over the loss of advertising revenue.

    What's going to happen? Seems like a digital advancement to me. But, I wish I knew. It's not going to be based on the current wave of online digital design formats. There's nothing innovative there - yet. Adding to this mix of 'who knows' is since everyone has a design blog, everyone is a decorator.

    When the right person discovers how to combine what works best from magazines with the best of blog innovations AND understands how to distribute and market the concept we may see something interesting...

  18. Blue~ As usual your writings are so beyond the bland postings that populate the blog world I am almost speechless. I have never taken part in any blog conferences and feel that it is like the Wild West, open to anyone regardless of their qualifications. The other side of that is because it is a new frontier it provides a forum for truly talented, adventurous souls to share their knowledge and ideas.

    In reference to design magazines; I have been writing for regional design magazines for almost two years. I began writing because the antique gallery I was managing closed. Just as interior design showrooms have been closing because of a lack of business so have shelter magazines been disappearing because of the lack of revenues.

    I write for magazines to promote who I believe are the talented people in an industry that has been made dumb by Box Stores, DIY television and uninformed bloggers. Unfortunately the media that I am using is also disappearing.


  19. Randy, thank you. I'm beginning to appreciate how convenient it would be on a number of levels to have all my magazines in digital form and I cannot believe I am untypical. Today I had to dispose of a number of back issues of the New Yorker - my house is awash in magazines. My partner reads the New Yorker in print form and I read it in a digital format. I find the problem of disposing of all this basically unrecyclable coated paper very worrying and have for a long time - the alternative, the online version, has become a solution to that.

    As you say, who knows?

  20. Kendra, thank you. I'm truly flattered and your compliment in turn leaves me speechless.

    If what we are witnessing in the world of magazines is the survival of the fittest it doesn't necessarily follow that it is the survival of the finest. And it is such a crying shame that so much that was good is gone! House and Garden remains the most egregious loss and it was closed when the economy was good - to be replaced by some tedious rag that did not survive long.

    We live in interesting times! We live in worrying times! This is the second industry/profession I've worked in that overnight became obsolete and I fear it is happening in my third, education.