The Reading Room

Magazines in an age of the free

The news of Border’s closing down sale is grim news in a grim deep winter for the publishing industry. It’s particularly bad for magazines – as Word magazine stalwart David Hepworth argues on his blog. The huge selection of independently produced magazines stuffed in those acres of shelves between Good House Keeping and Horse and Hound were unrivalled anywhere else – a loss leader designed to keep spouses happy while their other half nipped upstairs to the DVD section.

Most magazines have always had a pretty nail-biting borderline existence. But it’s instructive in these perilous times to see those that are riding out the twin cyclones of a deep recession and the death of print.

Word Magazine, the music and cultural monthly, is precisely the kind of publication that seems like it should be endangered.   There’s often less in it of deep interest to the average reader than, say, the Sunday Times’s excellent culture section or the Observer Music Monthly. Some of the features – lists of funny youtube clips and old music videos – reek of the poverty of the publication.

But unlike the now defunct Vox, Select, Melody Maker, or even the emasculated modern NME, it does have a distinctive voice. It’s clever, beautifully written, and most of all – seamlessly works with its online offering. The rambling Word podcast – an hour of middle-aged man in a pub anecdotes – is better than anything in the magazine.   I can get this for free on i-tunes – but, crucially, it makes me want to pay for a subscription to the print edition out of loyalty.   It builds up the identity of journalists until, almost like facebook friends, you want to hear what they’ve got to say. The Word Website is just as good: a rare example of a real community of interest with high quality observations and funny comments. The website devotees are even arranging to meet for a pint in Islington in the New Year. This is surely the only way forward for lifestyle magazines in a digital age. If they get under your skin until you identify with their brand then, somehow, you’ll end up giving them your credit card details – even in an age of the Free. RB

Apollo can help you with your media support