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 "Amazon.com 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.