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And now, while some glossies continue to close, indie magazines like Tiny Atlas Quarterly, Kinfolk, Gossamer, Gather, and Cereal—to name a few—have flourished in the past few years. In fact, 122 new magazines launched in 2021, according to Samir Husni, the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi and the self-proclaimed “Mr. Magazine.” Magazines have lasting cultural impact—think of National Geographic’s haunting portrait of a young Afghan girl, Demi Moore’s baby bump in Vanity Fair, Harry Styles in a dress on Vogue, Time’s “Are You Mom Enough” breastfeeding cover.
Still, for a modern reader, it’s easy to talk yourself out of the value of magazines. It’s obvious why many might see monthly magazines as containing perpetually outdated information—an issue takes months to write, research, and develop, and the minute one lands in your mailbox, updated information on any particular subject will be readily available on your phone. And it’s true—I can watch a thirty-second video of a person’s recommendations for a vacation in Copenhagen, updated down to the latest minute, but the pleasure of a physical magazine comes from absorbing the information in a different way.
Over email, Yolanda Edwards, the former creative director of Condé Nast Traveler, told me, “I think magazines are important because we slow down and absorb differently when we aren’t scrolling or clicking. It’s a more engaged, almost dream state you go into.”
When Condé Nast consolidated the UK and US editions of Traveler in 2018, Edwards needed a new project. She drew on her experience as a photo editor, travel editor, and creative director and launched Yolo Journal.
She supplements Yolo Journal’s print offering with a popular Substack newsletter and Instagram account, a clever separation of what makes a print magazine so satisfying—layout, typography, photography, illustrations—and what she calls the “listy black book” information found in the newsletter.
Edwards acknowledges and even embraces the limitations of print: “We don’t aim to be comprehensive—we know you have your smartphone right next to you all the time.” Instead, the goal for Edwards is to use her vast network of local experts around the world—including restaurateurs, hoteliers, bartenders, and shop owners—to create what she calls a “collective.” When working on travel magazines, she would talk to photographers about their work, and she realized that the good intel “comes from people who know it well [and who] are interesting and creative and, above all, curious.”
“I have a lot of photographer friends who reach out when they have ideas, and also some people I meet on Instagram send me pitches,” she said. “I have a notebook that is just for ideas, and I make lists and then start to see what makes for a strong lineup.”
What often draws me to print magazines is the vetting process that a magazine requires for its print contributors, combined with the intentional design behind the final product. For instance, an editor assigned a story to a writer and to a photographer who went to Copenhagen to craft a story fit for the publication and then sent back the draft to be edited, which was then passed off to a designer to be formatted, and so on and so on. At the risk of veering off into that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs territory, I find that the number of people that took part in the shaping of the story contributes to the allure of a print magazine.
I was drawn to writing in part because of this early magazine obsession. I imagined the glamour of being sent on assignment to different corners of the earth, the feeling of satisfaction after completing a lengthy celebrity profile, and the packaged tidiness of photos, text, and typography. Today, when I write, the magazine aficionado in me imagines the final product before I even finish the first draft, hoping that the design team at the outlet I’m working with has a vision. (They always do!)
I don’t work in magazines, but I’m lucky: For the past several years, I’ve worked as a part of special projects and series in a newsroom that in many ways mirrors a magazine. The process requires all parts of the organization, from designers choosing typography to editors sending out reporters to business teams selling advertising for the project. When a project goes live, there’s a feeling of satisfaction that I imagine would be similar to when a magazine issue goes to print. The act of writing itself can be a solitary endeavor, but publishing writing is collaborative. Sometimes when I write, I let the image of how I would package the story guide the flow—what does the header image look like? How will the photographer capture the story I’m telling? How will the reader experience my story reading digitally? The concerted effort behind a print magazine can impact not only the writing experience but how we read: How do we as readers benefit from having a team with different creative specialties—writing, designing, editing, photographing, illustrating—work together to bring the story to life?
Ultimately, when I read print magazines, I find the real value in the information they don’t contain. The print magazine is an antidote to information overload, a form of media that contains a finite amount of content, releasing readers from the laborious task of deciding what to consume in the limited spaces of time in a day. Reading a New Yorker eliminates the need for scrolling through links on, say, the state of narco politics in Honduras; instead, I have ten thousand words from Jon Lee Anderson and the satisfaction of a tidy ending. Take choosing a recipe: With a stack of Bon Appétits and Food & Wines on my coffee table, I don’t need to indecisively flit from recipe to recipe online. Instead, blind faith in the editorial staff of these magazines leads me to a torn-out recipe page and a quick trip to the store, saving some precious mental energy.
Magazines can meet us where we are in each moment, satisfying several different mental inclinations at once. We read them to learn something, to be inspired, or, as Yolanda Edwards says, to enter a dreamlike state. While a subscription sparks mailbox joy, buying off the newsstand can be just as pleasurable. Find one you like and let yourself be immersed.