Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Wrist Watches and Magazines

Is the print media dying? Steven Lagerfeld, an editor for the Wilson Quarterly, worries about how his magazine "will fare in a world of ubiquitous WiFi and e-readers." He spoke recently at a convention of the Association of Writers and Writer’s Programs.

He opened with the observation that these days everyone has a cell phone to show the time. Who needs a watch?

Lagerfeld continues, "So let me introduce myself. I am a wristwatch. Or, more accurately, a wristwatch maker. Okay, so I’m really the editor of a print magazine—the media world’s equivalent of a wristwatch.

Now, if you’re a wristwatch-maker and cell phones come along, you have some choices to make. You could go into the cell phone business. But that doesn’t seem like a very good idea. Or you could drastically reduce the quality and price of your watches—dumb them down—in order to sell more of them. Also not a good idea. Actually, it looks like it’s really not such a bad thing to be a Rolex in a cell phone world. A fancy watch isn’t just a device for telling time. But I don’t think I’d want to be a mass-market watch, like Timex.

So it appears that the only logical thing to do is to go on making Rolexes or Patek-Philippes or whatever while trying to adapt to the new era. Maybe you even make your watches more luxurious and expensive to distinguish them from cell phones, even as you do other things to cope with the cell phone challenge.

Since the WQ has been pretty successful in the past, my first reaction to the digital age is to keep doing what we’ve been doing at least as well as we’ve done it in the past, and maybe even better—making the magazine more intellectually and aesthetically luxurious."

How sad if quality magazines like the Wilson were to discontinue for lack of funds. What should be our response if we truly care about good journalism? How willing are we to show the money and buy a subscription, be it in print or in digital format?

The magazine, founded in 1976, is published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. and "is noted for its nonpartisan, nonideological approach to current issues, with articles written from various perspectives. Designed to make the research and debates of scholars and intellectuals accessible to a general audience, it covers a wide range of topics, from science policy and literature to foreign affairs."