Magazines vs Newspapers

It's a great time to be in the magazine business, not so great for our counterparts in the newspaper world.

Let's start with content. We in magazine land can write about pretty much anything we please, from Louis XV to Louis Armstrong. Not only can we pick and choose our topics, there's no better medium in which to showcase them. Illustrations, photos, brilliant graphic design -- a well-written, well-designed magazine is a piece of art, right in your ink-free hands. Got a particular interest? Specialty magazines, from celebrity gossip to interior design to pet care, have you covered. Show me a daily paper with content that mirrors, say, Cat Fancy, and I'll show you not only a flawed business model but also a crew of unhappy journalists. Magazines can delve further into subject matter than newspapers, while allowing writers ample time to craft provocative, insightful articles. Specific demographics tell us what our readers want, and don't want, to know about. Magazines are collected, lingered over, and proudly displayed on coffee tables like accessories. Newspapers hit the trash by day's end, if not sooner.

Today's news junkies want their news in real time, and can get it from 24-hour news channels as well as from the 'Net. Newspapers simply can't keep up, and the gutting of newsrooms across the country is the result. But even as newspapers struggle to reinvent themselves, magazines thrive as readers seek, and find, tailored information and entertainment within their pages. Face it, if your paper wasn't waiting for you tomorrow morning, how easy would it be to find that same news elsewhere? Now try that with Esquire. Not so easy, is it?

Don't get me wrong, I read the daily each morning, though it's more of a habit than an exercise in enlightenment. But is it a habit that, say, today's high school grads, with their iPods and their IM-ing ways, will embrace?

Doubtful. And when publishers worry more about folding than what runs above the fold, you can bet that the bottom line, not the readers' best interest, is what matters to them most.

-- Mary Helen Tibbs

I'm in the publishing business, so I read lots of magazines and lots of newspapers, and I enjoy both. But this debate is about which is better, or more simply put: if you had to choose one or the other, which would it be?

I'd take newspapers, based on four comparative factors: timing, slickness, variety, and frequency.

Timing: Magazines arrive bundled in the mail, so you get them when you come home from work, tired and distracted. Magazines get set aside. Magazines get put into stacks and await their chance to be opened.

Newspapers, by contrast, arrive on your time. Your paper is waiting for you every morning in your front yard. Out you go, coffee in hand, alert, curious, ready to savor the news of the day. And there it is, just as you knew it would be. Ahh, smell that morning air. Look down and see what's on the front page. Wander back inside, knowing you've got a good half hour of reading ahead of you. Perfect.

Slickness: Magazines are slick and slippery. They smell like perfume and they won't stay stacked. Even the ads and articles are slick, and glutted with conspicuous consumerism.

Newspapers are simple. Newsprint has texture. It smells like fresh ink and is easily recycled. Newspaper pages are thin and savory, like baked Doritos. They make a satisfyingly crinkly sound when you turn the pages. You can fold a newspaper any way you want for better readability. And you can use old newspapers to train your dog. Try that with Vanity Fair.

Variety: Newspapers bring the planet to your door: world news, national news, local news, sports, politics, food, commentary, entertainment, a horoscope, crossword puzzles, and the JUMBO. How could any sentient being live without a newspaper? It would take ten magazines to fill the void. And, best of all, you can read interesting bits out loud to your spouse, thereby distracting her from whatever she was reading.

Frequency: Magazines come monthly. Or weekly, at best. Newspapers, on the other hand, come every single day. And isn't that better, really? Enough said.

--Bruce VanWyngarden

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