David Carr tried to induce mass depression among members of the Magazine-American community last week by suggesting, in his Times column, that magazines were done for, kaput, KO'ed, history, toast. And he used actual numbers, damn him, to make his case:
Like newspapers, magazines have been in a steady slide, but now, like newspapers, they seem to have reached the edge of the cliff. Last week, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that newsstand circulation in the first half of the year was down almost 10 percent. When 10 percent of your retail buyers depart over the course of a year, something fundamental is at work.
I talked to an executive at one of the big Manhattan publishers about the recent collapse at the newsstand and he said, "When the airplane suddenly drops 10,000 feet and it doesn't crash, you still end up with your heart in your stomach. Those are very, very bad numbers."
I have higher hopes for magazines like The Atlantic and The New Yorker (a category that includes... mainly The Atlantic and The New Yorker, as well as a small handful of other titles). These are magazines that provide readers with deeply reported, closely argued, entertainingly written, carefully edited, and rigorously fact checked articles about serious and complicated subjects. But I recognize that no magazine is immune to the problems David identified.
The other day, a few of us were sitting around, thinking through new ways to ensure the continued viability of our wonderful product, when James Bennet, The Atlantic's illustrious editor in chief, brought up the scene in one of those Bourne movies where Matt Damon kills a guy with a rolled-up magazine. We all thought that this was a potentially interesting new product application, and we all agreed that while you could kill a guy with an iPad, you probably wouldn't want to, because you could break an iPad, but you can't break a rolled-up magazine.
I then proceeded to do a little Web-based research, and learned that this is a real thing, killing people, or at least disabling them, with magazines, as the video below demonstrates. We're not sure what we're going to do with this information yet, but Atlantic subscribers should know that they're not only buying wonderful articles and penetrating criticism, but also a killing machine (and please, watch the video, it's so worth it):