Attack the Stack? The Strange Message of Magazine Day


For some time, print magazines have been slowly but inexorably headed for irrelevancy. Now the people who love them and the people who sell them have hit on a common strategy: gently reminding you how much you used to enjoy reading magazines, and asking you nicely to let them hang around for a while.

That's the thinking behind Magazine Day, an event taking place tomorrow, primarily at a bookstore in San Francisco but, hypothetically, nationwide as well. Magazine Day is the brainchild of a writer and entrepreneur named Kevin Smokler, who thinks there are lots of people out there like him who buy lots of magazines but never get around to reading them. (Smokler is a business partner of Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired and noted futurist.) All that's needed, Smokler believes, is an occasion for such people to "attack the stack."

Not a bad idea, as far as it goes. But to make it a holiday? Holidays usually commemorate events and people that are in the past: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, Christmas, etc. Sure, you have a few, like Mother's Day and Secretaries' Day, that are meant to remind us to appreciate the people and things we sometimes take for granted. But ask yourself: In the year 2010, are print magazines so ubiquitous that we're in danger of not noticing them? Or is the real danger that they're something you soon won't encounter outside of a collector's shop or a museum? Here's a hint: It's not like anyone's proposing a National Smartphones Day.

But it's not just some dude in San Francisco who believes consumers need a jab in the chest. Publishers themselves are thinking along similar lines. Five of the biggest magazine houses -- Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith and Wenner Media -- are set to unveil a new ad campaign that will run in the pages of their April issues. The campaign's message "asserts the intrinsic value of the magazine medium," according to an executive from one of the companies.

Think about that one. Magazine publishers are spending their money to tout the value of reading magazines to people who are already reading magazines. If this is the best they can come up with, magazines really are in trouble.

Originally published