Media Perspective: Magazine industry could be saved by new DIY publishing

The past couple of weeks have been about newspapers, so I thought this week we could turn our attention to magazines and perhaps try to find reasons for optimism rather than just doing the usual doom and gloomifying.

Because, although many magazines are obviously in trouble and will close (there's a recession on, after all), there's clearly something unique about reading print that won't entirely be swept away by digits and e-readers.

Just one reason for optimism is in the nature of that relationship. It's about glossy paper, leisure and soaking up images as well as reading. Which makes magazines a great medium for branding, especially for those products composed entirely of imagery and associations: things like perfume and watches. As long as people are willing to pay more than £5 for a watch, then we'll have watch advertising, and we'll have magazines.

So here are three things going on in the magazine market that might point to an interesting future. The first is called MagCloud, a "print-on-demand" magazine service that takes much of the hard work out of making your own title.

You upload a PDF and they take care of printing, posting, managing subscriptions, all that sort of stuff. This isn't going to challenge the mighty Hello!s and Esquires of this world and it will accelerate the fragmentation of the magazine market, but it's got to be good for the medium overall because MagCloud makes hobby publishing affordable and realistic.

It's always been a world where an idea and some enthusiasm can get you quite a long way, now MagCloud makes it easier. It's not a business model that'll bring down Conde Nast, but if the web's taught us anything, it's that you no longer need a business model to make media. Not if you've got energy and time. And the killer titles of the future might spring from that diversity.

And then to help you navigate that diversity here comes stackmagazines.com, a site devoted to curating and distributing interesting magazines. It's like the ecology of the web pouring itself into the magazine world. As soon as we start to feel stupefied by abundance, a new niche service arrives to help us out.

And third, we're seeing the mighty Time Warner experimenting with letting you compile your own magazine out of content from five of its big titles. It's a smart way of using the web and "print on demand" to get value out of its existing content, and conveniently ignores all those old media strictures about purity of editorial vision. This seems like a sign of maturity: it's an industry working out what's good about new technology, what's good about the old technology and bolting them together in a way that makes sense.

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