When I was a lad, periodicals were meant to be read. Illustrations
were used to illustrate, oddly enough, a point made in the text. Often
we would benefit from a series of pictures demonstrating the steps
involved in cleaning a carburettor, papering a ceiling or worming the
cat. The occasional action shot would attract our attention or introduce
A maturing lad, fresh out of pimply pubescence, could argue that his
motivation for owning a copy of Penthouse was as much the in-depth
articles as the occasional shot of a scantily clad dolly bird.
Now, I find that we are benefiting from a publishing boom. The magazine
racks have outshone the Christmas lights on Oxford Street for the last
two or three years. We are now offered at least five titles to satisfy
the participants of every possibly activity and the odd title that is
just plain odd.
A trip to the gloomier environs of the milk, mags and fags emporium
offers a host of foreign titles and a mysterious range of plastic clad
wobbly women weeklies.
Lured to one of the glossier titles promising in-depth analysis of my
chosen leisure pursuit, I scamper home to enjoy it. What do I find? A
double-page ad followed by another double-page ad, a disjointed table of
contents presented in a variety of fonts and yet another ad. After
squinting at the contents, I am drawn by the promise of a product test
on page 34. Hold on! I flick through and find the page numbering
intermittent at best. When I finally track down p34, I discover product
testing of the most timid, mealy-mouthed kind. I might as well just
phone the suppliers for their brochures.
I return to check out the rest of the mag. Put before me (under the
guise of product news) is a montage of product shots above a few lines
of vacuous nonsense followed by a contact number for the supplier.
Oddly enough, I would describe these articles as ads. In fact, many ads
are more informative and use a better class of ’dollies’.
With content now given in idiot-sized chunks, editors reliant on press
releases and publishers becoming inextricably linked with the markets
they report on, what is happening to informative journalism in this
Having sought out the best of the bunch and learned to accept the
apparently random changes in format, a few months pass and then I then
get a publisher’s apology: ’The magazine did not retain enough readers
to justify continued publication. Would I like my subscription
transferred to one of the piles of tosh that I had previously decided
not to buy?’
What do publishers expect when they target niche markets if not niche
Thankfully, we can rely on unbiased consumer affairs output on
television. Oh, sorry, I forgot.