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Earlier today, after getting an amazing 9 letter word on Countdown (it was CODPIECE, in case you were wondering) I rolled up my sleeves ready to write something about magazine subscriptions. I’m saying this firmly on my high horse, but I don’t mean to be a dick about it. People aren’t buying many magazines, really, are they? Most journalists, PRs or media-type-folk get copies delivered in the office anyway, and because of their attitudes to print/online, some publications (Esquire and The Guardian come to mind) put enough of the print stuff online to give consumers less incentive to go out and buy something.

Long, long ago (in 2009) I read a really good interview with NME’s Hamish Macbain, who made a solid argument for print > online (full link here).

‘there are things [print] can do that you can’t do online – you can’t have a beautiful double-page spread of an image. There’s still something striking about that. You just have to play to your strengths as a print medium – although we do online stuff as well, you just need to find a way that a magazine can still be a strong means of communication.’

I remember reading that and thinking that was the most amazing statement in the world. Case in point, if you read Q this month, there’s a brilliant cover story article about Amy Winehouse, a year on from her death (actually, read last July’s if you can, because that issue had an even more amazing piece on Amy Winehouse where journalists like Sylvia Patterson discuss meeting her).

I read the feature a couple of times last week, and there are these big images of Amy playing the piano, and staring at the camera looking quite fierce and sometimes quite doe-eyed. And you’re reading about her refusing to do a song to someone else’s deadlines, delaying the production of Back To Black, winding Mark Ronson up and then suddenly turning up at his house and singing Love Is A Losing Game, which she had come up with in her head. The whole thing – images, layout, text – come together like an orchestra (well, an orchestra with three parts). Would the feature be as good read on a website like DigitalSpy, or on Q’s website? Probably not. The images would all be neatly cropped, identical like the soldiers you dunk in a boiled egg. Here’s an image. And another. And another. Oh, and an ad for printer cartridges. Lovely.

On a similar note, Esquire, a magazine I like for their style, grooming, food and drink kind of content, puts content online, but I’ll take the print stuff any time. It just looks better, it looks like the layout has been designed specifically to make the products (whether they’re suits, barbecues or bottles of tequila) the centre of attention.

But people aren’t buying magazines, are they (to a lesser extent, people probably aren’t buying magazine racks either, but IKEA are clever enough to convince you to store sliced lunch meat in them instead, so you have to hand it to them). Circulation figures are going down, and if you work on a magazine or a newspaper, it clogs up your Twitter and Facebook, and the publisher from upstairs comes down to have a chat. You might be doing badly, and they tell you off, but in one of those compliment sandwiches, where nice things bookend a stinging remark. And you get fired up, and think if only we had the weather, people would go on holiday more, and they’d buy your magazine in WHSmith’s at Gatwick and the industry would be SAVED.

One thing people point out is that magazines are expensive. Duh. Didn’t you see those people get made redundant last month? If the magazine is more expensive, maybe they can keep Jackie from accounts. And we NEED Jackie. She’s our Joan from Mad Men, so brilliant at her job. And I think she’s pregnant, but I haven’t checked yet. Oh God, can you imagine if she wasn’t and we all congratulated her? Sounds like something Phil would do. Ha.

That issue of Q I bought was £4.50, which is probably the most expensive monthly I can think of. When I was at FHM (which is just over three quid!) it was pointed out that the mag cost less than a pint. A month. How many times do you buy an extra pint and sick it back up, or feel shit the next day. We tried to stress that you know, this awesome magazine of features and news and funniness was pretty fucking cheap if you think about it.

Thing is, anyone who insists they can’t buy a magazine once in a while because £3.50 a month  is still expensive, what about subscriptions? Have you realised they are ridiculously cheap? Companies love subscriptions, it’s like a pre-nup for publishers. You’re agreeing to give them slightly better circulation figures for a while. When I was 18 I got a subscription to FHM after taking an issue on holiday (Abbey Clancey was on the cover, and the photoshoot was in a bath). I got the subscription because it was good value for money, I didn’t have to get ID’d at the newsagents (so embarrassing) and they gave you a free gift – an awesome t-shirt by Junk Food featuring loads of Marvel superheroes. It was so cool.

Subscriptions, as well as being cheap, give you free gifts! They change most months, but FHM used to do XBox games, GQ and Esquire do lux fragrances, travel accessories, you know, stuff that is really cool.

Look how much magazines WANT your loyalty. While this month’s Q is £4.50, you can get a subscription of 12 issues for TWELVE QUID. Twelve quid. A quid a month. And while this Amy Winehouse issue is admittedly the first I’ve bought since Andrew Harrison stepped in, it’s fucking brill. He’s got people like Adam Levine from Maroon 5 (“Just make me look cool,” he says), Justin Beiber (WTF) and Foster The People. I didn’t like the magazine when it focused so much on U2 or the Gallagers or Elbow. Pop music has its place in music magazines, and I do genuinely feel that by embracing less XFM bands Q is actually turning into a better mag.

So, to summarise: magazines are not doing well, and some magazines are folding because people are not buying them. Like The Word. I actually never bought an issue of The Word, but the way people are going on about it, it sounds like a magazine I’d enjoy. I’d be gutted if it happened to a magazine I really liked.

Speaking of which, read thisBasically, a company has launched Next Issue. Think Spotify for magazines. You can pay a fixed rate a month ($10 gets you access to monthlies, while $15 a month gets you additional access to weeklies, too). Like Spotify, this kind of model will only work with an all-or-nothing approach, and Next Issue has been backed by Conde Naste, Hearst, News Corp, Time Inc and Meredith, meaning you can access Esquire, InStyle, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated and Wired among others. Not bad.

Maybe if people are apathetic about subscriptions to magazines, this kind of thing will excite them. And if not, well, we’ll have no magazines and no newspapers and in a desolate future, we’ll plug ourselves into machines and live an unconscious life where we make our own news.

The End.

SMALL PRINT

  1. Sorry if I sound like a dick. 
  2. I’m not trying to be smug, really, but I was moaning on Twitter last month about a magazine I buy which featured an utter bellend in its pages. As I was moaning, someone started moaning like ‘oh fuck off they have it quite difficult, we need to fill pages, stop whining on Twitter’ and I politely said ‘well I buy this magazine quite a lot, so I think it’s quite fair for me to have an opinion on it’ and kind of feel if you’re a reader, and pay for something, you’re quite within your right to point out said bellend in said magazine.
  3. I have a subscription to Esquire, Men’s Health and Olive, which is a BBC food magazine. That last one was a birthday present, but I have to be honest, it’s really good.
  4. Recently I have also bought NME, FHM and GQ.
  5. And Q, which you may have guessed by my incessant bumming of it in this blog. But I have read it a lot recently, and it was that which inspired me to write this, so there.
  6. Thank you for pointing out CODPIECE is not a 9 letter word.

This column originally appeared on Wannabehacks on December 23rd.

It took me a while to realise that I was in the middle of an identity crisis, but only because my single experience of such a thing was from my school days. Jonathan Pye, in Year 4, came into school one day and declared that he must now be known as Sophie. He stood on his tip toes, he was a ballerina. He was fucking mental.

Thankfully my experience is far less warped than that, but I’m still baffled. I’m not sure what to call myself when I mingle, network, or generally meet new people. Am I a journalist, or a writer?

I remember last year I met a friend of a friend in a London club; he is a mildly famous person but not so much so that it’s worth naming him. I told him what I do, ‘I’m a journalist’, to which he said, ‘Oh, who do you work for?’

FHM,’ was my reply, to which he pulled a face. ‘FHM? That’s not real journalism,’ he declared.

I wondered about what he meant. Real journalism? Is that the non-media types way of saying that consumer work (or magazine work, or both) isn’t considered journalism? Maybe I should refer  to myself as a writer. But that makes me sound like either (a) those guys on Family Guy who sit in Starbucks and write novels or (b) a crusty old has-been who hasn’t had anything published, who spends his time spilling baked bean juice on his typewriter and stinking of cats, all the while refusing to leave the sanctuary of his dressing gown.

Anyway, in my current position I’m not a journalist in the sense that I don’t REPORT on things. I don’t break stories, or declare anything particularly new. Most of my work is feature-based, and even the news stories I write are usually about the newest pair of Stan Smith’s being released or a new store opening in London. Not like my friend, a reporter for The Cornishman, who often gets a front page detailing the most grisly of murders.

So I started thinking pragmatically about this journalist/writer conundrum. It can’t be so simple that newspapers/serious stuff make you a journalist and magazine/lifestyle stuff makes you a writer. What about people who work on websites, like Digital Spy? If their music editor announces that Coldplay will be opening an envelope for charity or that Adele was caught buying a candle, is that journalism? The site is, after all, entertainment news…

Or live-blogging, chronicling the opening of an envelope or the engaging story of Adele buying a candle. What does that count as? I think it’s reporting. Though if you’re watching Rupert Murdoch get grilled on the telly and you’re typing something hilarious into Twitter, maybe not.

I can’t be the only one suffering an identity crisis (of my variety, I’m not interested in gender confusion here). Since the original pastiche of reporters – white shirt, braces, shouting atpress conferences and getting pictures of Spiderman – has been so diluted by digital content, magazine work, social media, publications like Project (the iPad magazine) and Blokely (my current place of work; an online magazine behind a subscription service), it’s understandable that people are confused.

Especially when qualifications often don’t lead people onto the paths they find themselves; you can do an NCTJ if you’d like to be a journalist, or maybe a Magazine Journalism MA if you’d like to be in magazines, but I’m sure we all know people who did one and went on to do the other.

In fact, of the crop of NCTJ students I studied with, I’d say the minority are the ones doing the straight-laced, down-the-middle presupposed notion of journalism. Others work in magazines, on features desks, they copywrite, they staple things on to other things and so on. There’s not one word to describe us all (except maybe Hacks, though that’s like calling a photographer a snapper or a Sales Assistant a shelf stacker).

Furthermore, with people constantly telling us that we’ll look at copies of magazines and papers in museums and gawp at what we see, tugging our friends sleeves and saying ‘Crikey, how funny that the internet used to be printed out onto the skin of beautiful trees and then wrapped around deep-fried fish’, there’s a lot of evidence to assume people will be moving around print, digital, radio and television in future with the liquored-up limberness of a drunk fresher at a party.

So, what to do, what to do. As you can see, moping on about it hasn’t done me any favours in figuring out whether I’m a reporter, a journalist, a lion, a witch or a wardrobe. Maybe the crucial thing – and I might be on to something here, since the debate was only stirred when the famous one raised his eyebrows – is that actually, it doesn’t matter.

Do let me know your thoughts…unless you’re Jonathan Pye, because sorry for being a bit mean but you were absolutely terrifying, especially that time when you got your head stuck in the back of a chair? How does someone do that with their eyes closed?