Is print journalism moving towards niche and independent magazines?Florian Plag

Fleet Street is no longer the turbine of hissing and clattering newspaper production; instead, it’s the realm of tourists grasping selfie sticks and smartly-suited City traders. This transformation is often seen as a sad metaphor for the decline of the print media in England. In Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22, he describes with bleary nostalgia the avenue’s 1970s death throes but still reminisces about the “Dickensian and Johnsonian elements in its atmosphere”. Given the state of our battered and deformed press, this seems a lost Romantic dream. Unlike in previous decades, the printed newspaper is not, and cannot be, the nation’s media nervous system, connecting us all to events and ideas. Beginning in the late 1980s, this atrophy has accelerated with the rise of digital news platforms, with even Rupert Murdoch, the Godfather of worldwide news, admitting that his newspapers were “struggling” and that the diversification of the media landscape had “been tremendously damaging to print”. The only scraps and shreds of a commercial printed tabloid industry in Britain are found in the capital, with the Evening Standard and the Metro clinging to growth and profitability as freesheets, while other tabloids decline.

“Acclaimed and authoritative writing delivered in a satisfyingly aesthetic product, is, and perhaps will remain, a mainstay of journalism”

But this decay refers to a particular form of news production, one in which the written and printed word is the carriageway of information: events and facts. With this service available for free online, the concept of it being the axial function for newspapers seems inherently flawed. Although we all know the trend for printed circulation points ubiquitously downward, the exceptions are more interesting than the rule. The one general area of printed news which is growing is the niche of relatively expensive periodicals, historic titles like the New Statesman, The Spectator, The Economist and Private Eye. The circulations of the New Statesman and The Spectator have been consistently growing in the last decade, while Private Eye recorded its greatest ever readership in 2017 of over 250,000. With some of these publications costing close to £5 each without a subscription, the notion that they are not only maintaining an audience but growing it bucks all predicted trends for the print industry. The thing which they have in common is providing something different to just ‘the news’, something evidently worth paying for. The idiosyncratic humour and journalism of Private Eye has remained an unassailable niche and as long as political journals can retain their weighty columnists and métier of academic journalism it seems they can thrive too. This movement has rubbed off on the less sensationalist and more serious broadsheets, with The Times and The Telegraph (along with their Sunday counterparts), as well as The Observer, all reporting modest increases in circulation this year.

In a world where news is more accessible but less reliable than before, the consumer is clearly willing to part with a few pounds for the value of insight and clairvoyance. But also in the lifestyle genre, new magazines have been able to find success through a new breed of expensive and niche publications, often only emerging in the last few years. The Gourmand is a new biannual 120-page publication which covers avant-garde food and culture stories and will cost over £10. Others focus on novel approaches to travel journalism, with the latest headline of Avaunt reading “the impact of modernisation on the traditional tribal lifestyles in the Omo valley”. Cereal magazine (£12) prides itself on its postcolonial approach to travel writing, using writers with existing connections to countries rather than sending journalists abroad.


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These new independent magazines share much in common: their esoteric content, infrequent publication, emphasis on not patronising the reader with some articles running up to ten pages, and growing circulations, with Cereal now reaching 45,000 people worldwide. These publications often seem to better resemble non-fiction books than glossy lifestyle magazines, but they are resounding with a modern millennial audience by producing content which cannot be found for free and renders itself value for money.

What can be seen is an unspoken pattern in the world of print journalism. The presumption that material objects are anathema to a modern audience has already been exposed by the return of vinyl and printed books as profitable goods. It seems that whilst the delivery of watery and trashy content in print format is not worth buying for the modern consumer, acclaimed and authoritative writing delivered in a satisfyingly aesthetic product, is, and perhaps will remain, a mainstay of journalism

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