Investigating the shifting landscape of magazines

December 13, 2009

Today we have a guest post from Rachel Singh, formerly a web editor at Venture Publishing’s web properties and now a graduate student in digital anthropology in London. (The one across the pond.) She could use your help with a project she’s working on about “the shifting landscape of magazines.” Enjoy!

Edited to add: You can follow the study on Twitter @SLofM/#SLofM.

In 2006, as some of you may recall, TIME magazine named its Person of the Year as you. The magazine’s accompanying feature described the digital landscape of the World Wide Web as a revolution and Web 2.0 as a ‘massive social experiment’, stating:

“Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion? The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.”

The article in its entirety is worth a read, but what caught my attention were the words “global media”. At the time of reading (2008) I was a magazine web editor responsible for overseeing more than a few websites – smack dab in the middle of the revolution, attempting to navigate magazines online (often blindly).  More than once I had the feeling that the story didn’t end with You “beating the pros at their own game.” After all, if it was true that we (as in You) were seizing the reins of the global media to found and frame a new digital democracy, then weren’t we (as in magazines, as in part of the global media) at the same time founding and framing a new global medium? What about that?

It’s a question I’m exploring as part of my research as a digital anthropologist-in-training, through a study that investigates the shifting landscape of magazines. While it asks questions like “Do you think print is dying?”, these are not meant to reinforce doom and gloom missives of the death of print, but aimed at identifying the current trends/patterns of how magazines are navigating the ‘digital age’.

The TIME feature closed with:

“There is no road map for how an organism that’s not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion.* But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It’s a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who’s out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you’re not just a little bit curious.”

A rewrite of this applicable for magazines might read something like this: There is no road map for how an organism that’s not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 1 billion. But the first decade of the new century gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of global medium, not print to print, web to web, but magazine to magazine, person to person. It’s a chance for us (as in magazines) to look at ourselves and really, genuinely wonder what’s next. And, how to get there from here.

If you want to join that conversation, one step might be participating in the study. If you’re interested, here’s how.

* A correction worth noting: only 1.6 billion of the world’s 6 billion people are currently online. That is, four-fifths of the world’s population does not use the Internet….yet. (Source: Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)

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