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Why Do U.S. Magazines Suck So Badly?

Mon May 08, 2006 1:04 pm

So I'm a bit of a magazine addict. Bicycling magazines, motorcycling magazines, car magazines, industrial design magazines, outdoor magazines....I've always got piles of them on and around the coffee table.

Lately, I've really been enjoying magazines from the UK. Compared to US magazines, they're usually noticably larger and glossier. In addition, they seem to have, on average, about 3-5 times more content (above and beyond advertising) than the magazines we have here in the US.

Just tonight, I found a new cycling mag from the UK that included extremely in-depth product tests...that took place in their own test lab...and contained almost 200 pages of news, stories, and technical information.

The American counterpart? 63 tissue-thin pages. That included a "Special Buyer's Guide" section that amounted to 20 pages of excerpts from manufacturer's catalogs.

So what's the deal? Sure, our magazines cost 3-4 bucks less, but why is there such a huge disparity in quality between US magazines and UK magazines?


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RE: Why Do U.S. Magazines Suck So Badly?

Mon May 08, 2006 3:29 pm

IMHO - Brits are more willing to pay more for quality (as I am) whereas in N. America it's the price that is most important.
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RE: Why Do U.S. Magazines Suck So Badly?

Tue May 09, 2006 12:02 am

Quoting ANother (Reply 1):
Brits are more willing to pay more for quality (as I am) whereas in N. America it's the price that is most important.

On that note, many (if not most) magazines in the US are primarily advertiser-supported in order to keep subscription rates and cover prices down, so many magazine operations may be limited by that right off the bat.

However, having worked at a magazine company, I think a good answer is planned obsolescence. If you look at most weekly or bi-weekly periodicals (Time, Forbes, &c), the paper is thinner and the construction weaker overall because these magazines know that their readers will discard them almost as soon as they've finished reading; why invest in expensive papers and inks if it'll end up in the trash days after being delivered? Compare that to a National Geographic, whose very construction and heft signifies permanence because people want to and will keep it.

Finally, on the content side, I will say this: America has too many magazines. We have magazines for almost every niche and even then, there are often two or three *competing* against each other. There are simply too many rags and not enough journalists who care to earn crap money to write 12 times a year (which is why so many of them freelance). That disparity inevitably leads to thin issues overflowing with full-page ads, space-consuming graphics and tables and sponsored gate-folds. I don't know if the U.K. has the same problem, but I think if 500 or so extraneous magazines were to shut down, we may very well see an increase in the quality (at least content-wise) of the periodicals.

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