As a magazine lover, I want to keep magazines. I hate to throw them away, even when reality hits and I realize that I can’t save them any longer. I cringe when I see libraries de-accession precious bound volumes of magazines, though I know that collectors love them, and they always find a home, even if the ads are ripped out and sold individually on eBay.
As a child, I saved all my magazines, but Boys Life, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, American Heritage, Cricket, National Geographic School Bulletin (why did they get rid of it?), National Geographic and TV Guide were the ones I treasured. At other times, I kept other magazines, depending on my stage in life.
Particularly good were early 1980s Playboys (lost in a trunk at my boarding school, with interviews with George Gilder and photos of Candy Loving!) as well as late 1980s editions of Harpers & Queen, Spy and Fairchild Publication’s excellent and super-snobby M, starring W. Rushton Chatsworth. Also keep-able was the Dorothy Kalins era at Metropolitan Home and the Phil Moffitt era at Esquire. Right now, I have a large stack of Country Life magazines I can’t part with, as well as the stack of Virginia Living magazines that I edited from 2002 to 2006. Right proud of that.
As the founding editor of Virginia Living, I took the old-school approach when we launched it. My publisher insisted on the best paper. My art director insisted on the best artwork. We demanded interesting stories that would be able to be read for years ahead. We made the magazines with perfect bindings. I can’t speak for all of the readers I talked to while editor, but many told me that they were afraid to throw the magazines out.
I don’t think I am odd. In the kitchen my wife has a stack of a neighbor’s Everyday Food from Martha Stewart. I know other people who keep Practical Fishkeeping, Coastal Living, Smithsonian and the old defunct Horizon. Town & Country is another keeper, as is any magazine that has recipes, like Southern Living.
Why do we value a group of magazines? To look back at the early Arabic word that magazine derives from, it is a storehouse. A collection of ideas and pictures and thoughts. At their best, magazines validate our particular world view. I would guess that thousands of Oprah magazines get kept because their readers share her world-view, and they can reference it.
Like many others, if I am finished with a magazine, and cannot keep it, I leave it at a doctor’s office or car repair shop or barber shop. Or I give it to neighbors or friends. Many offices have tables where employees leave magazines for others to take home; some library Friends bookstores give away back issues. Only reluctantly do I “recycle” a magazine in a true recycling bin, except if it is a stapled newsweekly that won’t keep.
I always thought, however, that the magazine industry ought to do a better job at encouraging readers to keep magazines around for years. For instance, advertisers know instinctively that an ad in National Geographic gets more readers per copy than, say, a supermarket aisle magazine, and so they pay more. Smart publishers and reps push the idea of pass-along readership. Indeed with National Geographic, that “pass-along readership” might continue giving an advertiser exposure for the next 75 years.
Recycling page on MPA Site
Thinking on this idea, I was wondering if the Magazine Publishers Association was doing anything to promote the idea of keeping magazines around. So I went to the website of the Magazine Publishers Association, to see if they had any system or organized method to help re-circulate old magazines. What I found was a shock. The MPA, instead of having any sort of re-circulation program, instead encourages magazines to be dumped into the recycling bin! They have a whole page on recycling, with free PSAs for publishers to insert. That’s a great message. This magazine sucks after you read it, so throw it out quick! Oh and by the way, you readers are so stupid and ignorant as to not know that you can recycle a magazine. Brilliant!
Here’s how it’s worded:
MPA’s industry-wide public education campaign lets readers know that magazines can and should be recycled. The initiative includes a pair of Please Reycle (sic) This Magazine logos for members to prominently display in every issue of their magazines and a series of PSAs for publishers to run whenever space is available to reinforce the message that magazines are recylable.
The idea that the Magazine Publishers Association would be advocating tearing them up into shreds is inconceivable, and with lame-ass grammar to boot!
So what should MPA do?
- Take down the recycling web page and drop the ad campaign on recycling. Immediately. Today. It sends the wrong message. And never a cut-out ad in a quality magazine, either. Folks will recycle anyway.
- Talk to the American Library Association about a true “recycling” program where Americans can leave their old magazines at public libraries for other people to pick up. Give out stickers to libraries so that patrons can place the something over the address label, eliminating the worry about identity theft. The sticker should read: “The Magazine Publishers Association and the American Library Association encourage you recirculate your magazines. Please pass it on after you are finished, so another American can enjoy the great American tradition of magazines.
- Work with the AMA to encourage a new policy on physician office magazines. Magazine publishers depend upon waiting room readership, and doctors depend upon the cheap magazines to keep patients happy; use that as a launching pad for a take one/leave one policy at physician offices. Or even better, work to encourage subscriptions from waiting room copies.
- Encourage magazine publishers to use perfect bindings. They are easier to keep.
- Think about including perforated 3-up subscription card pages instead of blow ins, in order to sell subscriptions through multiple pass-through readers.
- Work with publishers to think of their content more carefully. If there are fewer pages and paper is more precious, then the magazines that are put out should be created with an eye to becoming classics.
- Work with advertisers to stress the new message, namely that pass-along readership and long shelf-life is a critical advantage of magazines. Each time a magazine is recirculated, its advertising gets seen again.
Magazines need to be read until they can’t be read anymore.