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Monday, May 16, 2011

So long to an old friend

When Gail and I married in 1983, she was a subscriber to The Atlantic, a monthly magazine founded in 1857. We have subscribed ever since... until now.

The Atlantic has been an interesting mix: analysis of U.S. and international politics and economics, other news in depth, fiction and poetry, humor, biographies, lifestyle articles, book reviews, etc. For many years I considered it compelling, perhaps my top monthly read. During the 1990s when I traveled heavily across North America, it was a standard item for my carry-on bag.

Our subscription to The Atlantic expires next month, however, and we've decided to let it go. We've noticed that we haven't read it much for some time. In part this reflects a deterioration of the magazine itself; the content is not as good as it once was, the new owners took a sensationalist and ultimately off-putting approach to marketing, and the layout hasn't been as attractive after the most recent makeover.

But in part this reflects changing trends. Several years ago I canceled my subscription to Business Week, which I had read since the 1970s. We dropped Consumer Reports because household stuff is more reliable these days (the magazine is a victim of its own success!). Last year Gail quit taking Cook's Illustrated, published by America's Test Kitchen and Christopher Kimball. Ryan stopped his ESPN Magazine.

This reduces our household to just one magazine delivery -- Coin World, one of my hobbies -- aside from the journals that are bundled with professional memberships. Who would have thought?

The explanation is not environmentalism. I was getting Business Week electronically. Truth is, I didn't like the electronic delivery: the technology was clumsy, the portability was lousy, and customer service between the magazine and their electronic delivery agent was hardly seamless. We still get a paper newspaper for similar reasons.

Availability of information on the Internet -- disintermediation -- is certainly a major factor. I have about 45 feeds into my Google Reader setup, and I read them eagerly.

I won't repeat the cliche of predicting the death of magazines; the industry has always been difficult and has successfully adapted to changing tastes and interests. But I wonder where the magazine industry, as a whole, is going.