There must have been about 40 people huddled around the glow of the video conference screen – I was head-down at my desk, a little buried with a busy workload due to two magazines going to press. But I got caught up in the razzmatazz from London about our company’s restructuring. The words on everyone’s lips, Have we been sold?
No, we hadn’t. Far from it, things were going to be digital-tastic. The digital future was bright – so bright, they played the video presentation again, in case we’d missed anything the first time about our journey to Planet Digital.
For anyone still not sure, there was also an article on the Guardian website, in which the chief exec spelt out that, over the next 12 to 18 months, all of our titles would become digital only.
I looked down at the proofs on my desk with an unblinking gaze. A pile of magazine supplements stared back at me from my in-tray. I swallowed hard. I’m adaptable, I told myself. I already do some work on the company’s digital side. I run a blog, I thought! A Circles in the Sand Facebook page. I even occasionally Tweet. I can do digital (right?)
Except I kind of like our print editions.
Without giving away the name of the company I work for, it’s been going for a long time. In fact, it wouldn’t be over-egging it to say it’s been a publishing institution for more than 70 years.
I took my first job with them 20 years ago, worked on and off for various titles for years, then, by chance, got hired by the Dubai office here. For a girl who loves magazines so much, I even took a post-grad diploma in them, it’s been the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do – other than write books, but that’s a whole new kettle of fish.
I sort-of knew this was coming. Across the company’s portfolio, 67 per cent of revenues are from digital and events. Digital subscriptions are apparently the format customers want to engage with. Newsweek went ‘digital only’ after 79 years in print in early 2013, and commentators say almost all magazines will eventually go purely electronic. The message for publishing is clear – paper products have had their day.
Or have they? Aren’t there still people out there who’d prefer to read printed words rather than look at a screen? Aren’t there tonnes of avid readers, like me, who love magazines and book stores? Buying a magazine with a beautiful cover feels like treating myself to a present, every time – is that really so old fashioned?
I decided to ask around at work. Holding my pile of proofs, I rubbed the tips of my fingers against the edge of the pages, and asked one of the young, whippersnapper journalists: “But what about reading magazines on the loo?”
He looked at me, bemused, as though seeing me for the first time. “You can read your iPad on the loo, you know.”
“The bath, then?” I ventured. I hate taking my iPad into the bath as it really doesn’t enjoy getting wet.
“And how about the psychological satisfaction of not only starting to read a magazine, but finishing it? Of putting it down knowing you’ve got through it, without hundreds of seductive hyperlinks that take you down the internet garden path.”
Of course, when I got home and asked my children which format they preferred, the answer was a no-brainer for them. “The iPad,” chorused my screenagers. Their eyes went round and they crinkled their noses at my suggestion they could read more books.
So how about you? How do you read magazines? Are they still relevant in an age of free online content, social media and 24/7 news – or has print been trumped?
Postscript: So a little later, I find myself troubleshooting the boys’ X-box – a chore that always makes me feel like someone’s jumping on my chest. Once fixed, Raptor asks me to turn the volume up. “It’s the button on the side, Mummy!” He waggles his eyebrows. His confidence in my digital future is etched all over his face. “… It says V on it.” Oh the faith…!