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Withering Glance: Magazines: By mail or by mobile?

  • Article by: Rick Nelson and Claude Peck
  • Star Tribune
  • April 8, 2012 - 9:46 AM

CP: Poor magazines.

RN: I know. I've been getting subscription offers from titles I used to carry, and they're practically paying me to take them back. Details for a year for eight bucks? Maybe. But even at that price, it starts to look like so much recycling.

CP: Then there's the timing issue. In the recent old days, I'd become ultra-miffed upon seeing the new issue of a magazine to which I subscribe on a newsstand days before it arrived in my mailbox. Now it's gotten worse. By the time my letter carrier showed up with the latest issue of New York, I knew via Twitter that Ward Sutton had done the cover illo, and I had read most of its contents on my phone. And that's a weekly.

RN: Exactly. By the way, can we just pause for a moment and gush over Mr. Sutton, our former Twin Cities Reader colleague? The man is a modern-day Michaelangelo, and I'm thrilled for his success.

CP: Ditto.

RN: I will say that you'll have to pry Saveur out of my cold, dead hands. Only boy genius editor Jimmy Oseland, the talking head of "Top Chef Masters" fame, could commission a heartbreaking coming-out story wrapped inside a food-porn spread on the glory of Southern layer cakes. That, my friend, is the beauty of magazines.

CP: You foodies. I swear. Anyway, I'm at O'Hare the other day, thinking, wouldn't a nice magazine help me ignore a chatty seatmate? It's still fun to peruse them and read the come-on lines, but we know darn well that what's behind those shiny covers is older than Demi Moore.

RN: And just as skinny. The Newsweek that landed in my mailbox this week had roughly the same heft as my co-op's monthly newsletter.

CP: The news in those mags is about as fresh as the produce at the bottom of my fridge's crisper. And what about the monthlies? By the time Harper's comes out with it's stem-winder on one foreign military intervention, our drones have moved on to a new country.

RN: Sorry, did you say something? I was watching a video on my Android at Menshealth.com, a demo on the plank single-arm row. So much more riveting than reading an article.

CP: A true mystery to me? How magazines decide how and when and why to push content to me via my 14 mobile devices.

RN: This insomniac is all over the seemingly limitless archives at many magazine websites. Toss "Philip Johnson" into the New Yorker's search engine, and one of the 279 hits is a free, book-length 1977 Calvin Tomkins profile of the architect. I finally had to stop reading when my MacBook's |battery ran out of juice.

CP: Access to a periodical's archives is maybe the only remaining reason to subscribe these days.

RN: That's why I happily coughed up $25 to the New Yorker last month, for the kind of unfettered access that translates into, say, a 1962 feature on Barbra Streisand during her Broadway debut in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale." You can't put a price on that, Claude.

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