There’s a lot of angst about the current health and future of general interest hobby magazines now. One doesn’t have to look long or hard to see a decline in page counts or the number of titles that have fallen away in the last twenty years.
The significant problem for general interest magazines doesn’t center on the paper versus pixels debate or so-called antiquated business models. It’s commoditization. The information they were once the sole providers of is now commonplace due to the rise of the Internet as a publishing platform. The explosion of personal blogs, historical society and special interest group magazines, along with forums and other online venues like YouTube has stripped away the monetary value of information scarcity. Hobby publishing is bloated with the resulting pressures of commodity pricing now firmly in place.
In any commoditized market, the value propositions have to be reframed. Competing on price is a fool’s game and a certain road to insolvency. How do you undercut free for example?
If the supply of information is abundant from many sources, then one has to ask: what’s scarce now?
If reader’s attention is the scarce resource everyone is chasing, what’s required of a publication now? More of the same old stuff isn’t the answer. I submit it now takes a different voice.
Different voices. Broader perspective.
I believe this craft truly benefits and will flourish from the fresh thinking and perspectives coming from the blogosphere and other new digital voices. Free of the baggage of old school convention, independent writers can open doors and, one can only hope, people’s minds to new possibilities and ways of thinking about the craft.
Using the power of a consistent voice, blogs like Trevor Marshall’s Port Rowan in 1:64 or Riley Trigg’s Model Railroad Design present a deeper more thoughtful perspective on what this craft could be. Writers like Gerard J. Fitzgerald bring an articulate historian’s understanding that gives one pause to contemplate not only where we’ve come from but how we got here and where we might go. There is no mass market fluff here. In bringing the fundamental principles of history, philosophy, psychology, the fine and applied arts, design, and numerous other pursuits, indie voices like these expand the scope of what the craft can become. They’re an important force in overcoming the inertia of the status quo.
From such disciplines we learn that a static mindset erodes innovation. We relearn that growth has always come from ideas and people out on the fringes who ask: why does it have to be this way? In an activity shaped and dominated by only one or two primary voices, a perspective that looks outside the mainstream is needed to see around the blinders of convention.
Developing a writing voice means adopting the long view. A writer’s perspective needs time to grow. New ideas won’t spread until they’re embraced by people and an audience isn’t built overnight. One needs to put in the time, face the realities of the craft and pay the dues required. Perhaps most important, one needs to have something worth saying.
Yes it’s chaotic now because it’s still early days. Yes the challenges of breaking through the noise are greater than ever but time and perseverance is an ally because the dilettantes will leave when they get bored with the work required. Yes those invested in the preservation of the old forms will still bemoan our presence but it’s worth the effort to forge ahead with new visions because the future of the craft is waiting to be written.