Every couple weeks I see a newscast or blog shouting about the end of the printed newspaper. They claim that it is only a matter of time before they all fold completely, because no one will pay for what they can get for free online. But you never hear such commotion about magazines, and I believe that is because they’re not going anywhere. We love them too much.
For instance, my current subscription is for Real Simple magazine (I only allow myself one subscription at a time, because I don’t have time to read more). I love it. I am obsessed with it. Despite being in the middle of reading an excellent book, I will virtually pace at my mailbox for my Real Simple. I will drop my book on its binding the moment it arrives and likely not revisit it until my magazine is dog-eared and tea-stained.
But this doesn’t make sense. Do you know what I do with those pages of information that hundreds of people have compiled for me? Nothing.
I apply about one percent of what I read, yet I feel compelled to keep subscribing anyway. A recent issue suggested I switch from perfume to fragrant water; I haven’t. Another showed me how to use household foods and baking ingredients to all-naturally clean my home; I still use the regular stuff. I briefly considered switching to their incoming mail organization system, but decided our mail was fine.
So why do I read it? It’s organization porn.
I seriously feel like I’m going to have a happiness stroke when I see how they completely made over someone’s closet. Or how they ingeniously suggest using a colander to hold ice when you’re mixing cocktails so the water escapes, leaving drinks undiluted.
As I read, I picture myself transforming our home with these techniques. I will banish clutter from our junk drawer by inserting cubic boxes for each item! I will create an efficient mudroom with cubbies for all of my imaginary children to store their backpacks and shoes!
And it’s not just Real Simple. Why do I sometimes read People magazine? Do I personally know any of the people to which they refer? Of course not. But I could tell you the names of all of the Jolie-Pitt children, as well as their birthplaces. I could joke about the “colon cleanse” Gwyneth Paltrow was quoted talking about.
In a strange way, celebrity gossip is like reading about fabulous cleaning products – fun to read, but totally irrelevant.
I used to subscribe to InStyle magazine. It showed me how to be of-the-moment, superbly fashionable and utterly urban. Yet I never bought the clothes and couldn’t afford to if I wanted to. And it took me years to realize that it made me feel like an ugly, poverty-stricken hick.
It’s not just me, either. I have a friend who subscribes to Cooking Light and absolutely loves it – yet has never cooked one recipe from it. I have a husband who reads The Economist, yet rarely has the chance to discuss the in-depth articles with anyone. My mother reads movie reviews in People magazine every week but won’t see a movie in the theater, she always waits for it to come out on DVD six months later.
All of this is really ironic when you consider that I have wanted to be a magazine editor for as long as I can remember. The concept of magazines has always drawn me because it would seem that people read their magazines because they like them, not because they have to be informed like with a newspaper.
As I wrote for several newspapers in college, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone was reading my work. Why slave over each word and every fact if no one will read past your first three sentences? But with magazines, you have a chance. Readers have already selected your publication because they love your topic, so it just might matter to them if you choose to write about “Bing vs. Google” rather than “The Benefits of Bing.”
Magazines are an escape into information for your life, whether you apply it or not. They entertain as they inform, which is exactly what draws a reader to them. Also, they’re low on the commitment scale. Have just ten minutes? Read one article and you won’t feel like you were left hanging.
Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be the writer/editor telling Real Simple readers how they can avoid the pitfalls of not finding the right manicurist. And maybe that person will dream of following my advice, and then a week later head to the bathroom to do her own nails. Even so, I bet I’ll have hooked a reader for life.