So, I recently moved into a new apartment. And a few days ago, I came across a giant, anonymously-delivered pile of mail at my doorstep, which I soon realized was all addressed to the previous owner. After painstakingly sorting through stacks and stacks of the former tenant’s checks, bills, and Sephora coupons (which I may or may not have stored away for my own personal use….does that still count as a federal offense?)I was left with a massive stack of magazines. Apparently, Miss Former Apartment 003 Tenant was a monthly subscriber to People Magazine. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Do people still read People? Do people still subscribe to print magazines? It had genuinely been so long since I’d flipped through a glossy print mag. I felt like I was holding onto a pile of ancient relics in my tiny studio.
The stack of everyone’s favorite celebrity print magazine, People, really took me down memory lane. When I was a kid, I was an absolute magazine fiend. It all started with the collection of American Girl magazines that were housed at the local library two blocks from my apartment. I used to drag my mom down there at least once a week, so I could hole up in a comfy plaid chair for hours and flip through pages and pages of quizzes, hairstyling tips, and seasonally-themed party crafts. When I turned 9 or 10, I graduated to the world of Teeny-Bopper magazines. Remember J-14, Bop, M Magazine, and QuizFest? For years, I was physically incapable of passing by a Blockbuster or a Duane Reade without dragging my parents straight to the magazine aisle to pick up a glossy magazine outlining the goings-on of my favorite Disney Channel stars.
Therefore, the natural progression would’ve been for me to start reading the likes of People, OK!, InStyle, and Vanity Fair as I aged into young adulthood. But, when I reached the 8th grade, I stopped purchasing magazines in print altogether. I’m not exactly sure why this obsession suddenly skidded to a stop. Perhaps, I had shifted into a weird, liminal age where I was too old to read about Boy Bands and Disney Celebs and too young to care about the marriage of Tom Cruise or Kardashian-related drama. But, more likely, I lost interest in print mags because I had realized that I could access the same info via social media and Internet surfing, with no additional cost necessary.
Print Magazines vs. The Digital Realm
As social media continued to rise to prominence in the 2010s, people seemed kind of excited to announce the funeral of the print magazine. After all, we were thrilled with the constant inundation of rapid-fire news and content on our social feeds. It was new and innovative! Who cared about boring, slow-moving paper-printed content? Every piece of information we needed to know was available with a singular click or scroll. The excitement of the rising digital age drove all of us to denounce archaic and useless print content all-too-fast.
There’s no denying that print content has declined in popularity in the last 10 years or so. According to Statista, the 46 billion dollar industry (as of 2007) dropped to 26 billion as of 2019. There’s plenty of articles out there that outline the slow descent of the print mag industry. And, most of them boil down to the overtaking of digital media as the reader’s preferred form of news consumption. But, just because the industry has undeniably declined doesn’t mean that it’s gone for good.
Collectible and Iconic
In his 2020 thought piece, Forbes contributor Andy Meek begs readers to stop claiming that print journalism is dead, citing the launch of 60+ new print magazines in 2020 alone, a shocking number in a year wherein opening any business venture was a total gamble.
Magazines today seem to function in this liminal space, between an attempt to revive a slowly-fading enterprise and an attempt to create quality, collectible content for buyers. And Vogue magazine, for example, seems to shift out of this stuck space by capitalizing on celebrity and collectability. Remember that Harry Styles covered in November 2020 when the trendy former boy-band star donned a couture dress for the magazine’s cover shoot? Physical copies were literally flying off the shelves. Fans of Styles wanted nothing more than to own a memorialized copy of this iconic moment in fashion history.
The Future of the Print Magazine
But, not every magazine can pop a money-shot of Harry Styles onto their cover. And, until those People magazines landed on my doorstep last week, I honestly had forgotten the publication was even still in print. Without notoriety or collectability, how can a print mag like People hope to weather the digital storm?
Well, we can’t forget about the modern-day recycling of nostalgic activities and fashion trends that are currently inundating the Internet. I mean, isn’t re-imagined Y2K fashion and culture all the rage on TikTok these days? What’s more Y2K than kicking up your feet and flipping through a magazine? It’s entirely possible that, just like the re-popularization of drive-in movies, roller rinks, and other pre-2000’s nostalgia-fueled activities, the purchase of print mags might come back into style. But, who’s to say? For now, I’m going to be spending my week flipping through Miss Former Tennant 003’s lost collection. Maybe I’ll manage to re-live my former love of the print magazine all over again.