Dynamist Blog

What Are Magazines For?

"If your concept of a magazine is something designed in one-page bursts, or three pages that only carry 500 words due to the mass of images, then, really, you're not doing anything the web can't do better, are you?" writes Warren Ellis on the "burst culture" of the Web.

I saw that shortly after reading Paul Berman's 28,000-word TNR essay on Tariq Ramadan--a great, if extreme, example of what a serious magazine can publish. Long essays--4,000 words-plus--are ideally suited to magazines, and satisfying to read in that format. It's not clear, however, that there's an advertising market to support them. So medium-sized ideas tend to get chopped down to column length or blown up to masquerade as books.

I've often said that if I were still editing Reason, I'd redesign the magazine to put all the short stuff on the Web and just run long features in print. But then Reason, like TNR and the rest of its think magazine competitors, is a subsidized publication that long ago realized it has no significant ad base.

The other thing magazines can still do better than the Web is publish photography with high production values. And they're still a lot more portable than a computer. I can't surf the Web while getting my nails done or, for that matter, flying cross country.

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