In 2000, I remember, I was sitting in a meeting where a slide was presented showing the impending death of magazine publishing and the sure world dominance of the web.
In fact, the opposite happened. By the end of 2001, the “dotcom bubble” burst, as the infamous turn of events was called, with a majority of publicly traded dotcom companies closing, and incredibly enormous investment capital fizzling out.
While this phenomenon was more a lesson in runaway venture capitalism than it was about media and technology, still, to me, the lesson learned was—stop writing the obituary for media, whatever media it is, because a fail-proof media oracle has yet to be invented. This, even as one tries to decipher consumer behavior.
And contrary to the PowerPoint presented in our meeting, the 2000s decade, you’ll remember, saw the boom in magazine publishing, with walls of bookstores covered with titles for every conceivable niche market and addressing an incredible range of readers’ interests and needs.
While the current decade is seeing the life-and-death struggle of many magazine titles and the near-mass exodus to digital, still, one cannot dispute how a generation has been reared on magazine reading.
Indeed, by now, print journalists like we are must be used already to reading our obituary regularly.
Not a day passes by without advertisers, researchers, survey takers and media pundits telling us with absolute certainty that print is dead. And that nobody is reading print anymore—this, as they continue to send stories they request us to run.
We’ve even sat down at lectures where we were reminded how robots would replace us writers. (Why not, especially if the bot has no cholesterol issues.)
Pummeled with predictions
I’ve been reading the obituary for print from as far back as I could remember. Almost two decades ago, even as we were pioneering in magazine publishing in the country and opening one magazine title after another, we were already pummeled with predictions that newspapers would be dead in no time.
In truth, again, in the last decade, a portion of fashion retail and luxury brand advertising has been migrating back to broadsheets from the glossies—in the Philippine setting. And in fact, cable television has yet to lure completely such high-end fashion advertising.
What does all this tell us?
As the famous quotation goes, the news of our death, I’m afraid, is grossly exaggerated.
We don’t live in a world monopolized by a single media or medium, or haven’t you noticed? There’s no such thing as media monopoly or exclusivity. I’ve always said, television didn’t kill radio (a wartime medium), “betamax” (remember that?) didn’t kill cinema, magazines didn’t supplant (not totally, at least) the broadsheets, audio cassettes didn’t supplant books, cable TV didn’t kill free TV. Social media isn’t killing traditional media, not yet at least, just encroaching on it and forcing it to reinvent itself. And so on.
All media—mass media and niche media—have been coexisting, or haven’t you noticed? All media are merely following market demands—various market segments.
Today’s consumer is a multi-media user whose habits continue to evolve. He or she—across age and economic demographics—uses or is exposed to all media. You get your news fix in the morning from your iPad or laptop, and if you want to see the visual spreads or story hierarchy, from the broadsheets.
You have the CNN turned on as you dress up because you want to see the latest dissection of Trump (?). In traffic, the radio or Spotify helps keep your sanity. You’re tied to your mobile 24/7 for—whatever: news, fake news, scandals, trends, trolling, food porn, travel-envy, your urges are more vast than your needs.
Hold a book
And yet, there are moments, especially at bedtime, when you want to hold a book, read it, or keep your journal.
A media or an information platform progresses depending on how it addresses the needs and wants of its target audience or market. And journalists like us will continue to write for as long as people have eyes to read—bite-size or long, light or heavy, hard or soft news, in whatever platform, from traditional to social media to ancient media like books.
The concern about journalists losing their audience, or reading being on the wane, was addressed many decades back. In the late ’90s, in the Magazine Publishing course (now defunct) at Stanford University, one of the speakers, Richard Stolley, the pioneering editor of People magazine and Time, was asked if reading was getting to be an extinct activity, with paper or print under threat as a medium and people too busy to read.
Stolley said, on the contrary, people would be reading more and more, with content being more accessible in all kinds of platforms. Reading, he predicted, would be an increased activity more than ever. Turned out, he was spot on.
Technology is prone to obsolescence. Platforms change and evolve. In contrast, content, I like to believe, can outlive even its creator. The creative work outlives the artist. Our survival depends on how we create content, retool it for our readers or audience, and mine our creativity with honesty and authenticity, with relentlessness.
Print journalists like us will just have to produce compelling and creative content that engages our readers. Newspapers can continue to segmentize its content based on the special needs and interests of its various reader segments. There are as many readers’ interests as there are mall-goers, and the Lifestyle reader’s need is different from that of the front page—for instance, a Lifestyle reader is interested in the style of Virgil Abloh, not in the style of Panelo. And at the end of the day, it’s how much you keep your credibility with readers.
In truth, even when I was immersed in magazine work in a broadcasting giant, I didn’t see myself as just a print editor, but as a content generator in whatever platform. Honestly, I think print magazines die when their content is reduced into a formula, and a consumer doesn’t believe he or she has to shell out money for trite content, when he or she can get it free online.
To paraphrase the recently departed George H. W. Bush, “read my lips,” it’s the content.
Print or paper as a medium of communication, like books, will not die, it should rediscover its special niche in the daily clutter. A friend was so amused with her nephew, who’s less than 10 years old and who grew up on the tablet. He now prefers to read books because he says, “They’re special.”