The Modern Magazine

The Modern MagazinePrint magazines are—contrary to the kind the-sky-is-falling-in predictions that always accompany the arrival of new media—not dead. They’re not even dying. They’re actually undergoing a bit of a vinyl-like renaissance.

Jeremy Leslie has picked up on this phenomenon and penned a solid, gorgeous print book to discuss the magazine industry context and its plays.

Entitled The Modern Magazine: Visual Journalism in the Digital Era, the book is a coffee table tome that pays homage to excellent magazine innovation and design. Organised logically and featuring stellar design itself, it features covers and spreads of some of the best designed, most beloved magazines around. It’s basically porn for magazine lovers’ eyes.

The word ‘magazine’, I learnt from Leslie’s book, is derived from a combination of the Arabic makhzan, meaning storehouse and the French magasin (shop). It also has connotations to magazine as in guns and bullets—that is, the sense that the magazine could explode people’s idea of content etc. through surprise.

As with books, I also found out from Leslie’s book, early magazines were only afforded by the wealthy, but came to become affordable for the masses. Later, the originally purely text-based magazines came to include images—a change that coincided with major 20th century cultural and political shifts. It’s this image-led aesthetic we are now familiar with, and magazines have become rich text and visual records of our times.

As a not-so-closet magazine (and book) lover, I can attest to that. Both timely and often timeless, magazines capture the here and now as well as represent a time capsule of culturally and historically significant events. Leslie documents all this and more.

Leslie’s writing style is brilliant and the information he imparts incredibly readable and salient. But it’s even possible to enjoy this book simply by flicking through its vibrantly designed pages. This is a man who understands communication design.

The Modern Magazine emerged from a blog Leslie writes about magazines and the publishing industry, so he spans multiple platforms and refreshingly doesn’t get caught up in the print-versus-digital dichotomy. New media doesn’t usurp old media, Leslie argues—the relationship and interplay is far more complex than that.

Technology, for example, has improved magazines by facilitating better layout, increased processing power, greater audience reach, and diversification of content in general. For example, Monocle magazine has opened coffee shops and set up a 24-hour radio channel—all of which feed back into, and create new opportunities for, the magazine and brand.

But, Leslie says, shiny, new technology isn’t immediately adopted by magazines—it has to earn its place and be adopted and adapted to suit the magazine rather than being treated as ‘new toy novelty’. Print, it turns out, is a rather robust interface not yet surpassed by superior digital ones.

Nor is Leslie anti-technology, noting, for example, that the newly allowed affordability of software means such wins as it’s easier than ever to produce magazines. We’re subsequently seeing a rise in independently published magazines—meaning things are on the up for magazines in general and innovation is at magazine development primacy.

Which is 500-odd words’ way of saying The Modern Magazine is a fantastic point-in-time examination and prediction of what’s to come in terms of magazines and their publishing and distribution practices and channels. And it offers some handy eye porn candy…

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.