Some stay, some go: Notes on magazines

I read magazines–print magazines, that is. I love good print magazines. Always have. The set of magazines I take changes over the years depending on my current interests (our current interests, that is) and depending on what’s being published, since magazines have been dying and being born for as long as there have been magazines.

Unfortunately, I’m one of those idiots who will read everything in a magazine, or at least start every article. That was particularly noticeable back when I was taking something like seven different personal computing magazines, one of which–PC Magazine when it still was the bible of the industry–appeared 22 times a year and had a book’s worth of content in each issue. I’m now down to one personal computing magazine (and should maybe look for others), partly because some have disappeared, partly because I don’t write much about PCs any more or really care about them as much. I don’t read Hammer Monthly either; the PC for me is now mostly a tool.

How many magazines?

There are, I believe, a couple hundred thousand magazines and journals published in the U.S….with at least two or three for almost any interest, no matter how obscure.

Right now, as of a key occurrence that’s part of what this blather is really about, I believe I get 24 magazines on an ongoing basis–one PC-related, five travel-related, three library-related, three science fiction, three audio/video related, and a whole bunch of others. Excluding one sort-of weekly that really barely qualifies as a magazine, I get 225 issues a year. I’m usually about a month to six weeks behind on “regular” magazines–and four months behind on science fiction & fantasy magazines, which I used to catch up on while traveling. Since I don’t travel much anymore, I’m reading them when I go out to lunch and sometimes at home, but the rate at which I’m reading them (roughly one issue every two weeks) is the rate at which they’re arriving, so the current ten-issue backlog isn’t changing much.

Ten issues? Yep. Fantasy & Science Fiction now publishes six double issues a year, each of those issues as thick as a paperback and with at least as much content as a typical book. Analog and Asimov’s each publish ten items a year, two of them double issues. So a typical four-month period will have eight to issues in all.

I’m trying to read roughly a book a week in book form. I’d guess I read at least two books a week worth of magazine articles–including roughly a book every three weeks worth of shorter fiction (although these double issues now frequently feature novellas, which at up to 50,000 words aren’t that much shorter than typical books).

Update 3/1/11: Sigh. My count was off–even apart from things like Schwab’s On Investing. Turns out that Money won’t stop arriving until November 2011, and I forgot that I’d tried another subscriptions-for-miles deal, Wine Spectator with its peculiar 15/year frequency. So it’s currently 26 subscriptions and, aside from one “weekly,” 240 issues.


All of that’s prefatory to some changes, which may say something about my intellectual level or just my patience with imposed guilt.

I’ve tried a few magazines over the past two or three years using airline miles from airlines I don’t expect to travel on very often: Frequently, when your miles are near their expiration date, you’ll get an offer of subscriptions at roughly the two-cents-a-mile rate. Since magazine subscriptions are usually pretty cheap anyway (with some noteworthy exceptions, these days including all three SF magazines and, of course, Consumer Reports), it’s a bargain–if I was so inclined, I could even get the Wall Street Journal or The Economist for free.

Anyway, a year ago one of the magazines on offer was Harper’s–and I thought I’d give it a try, since I really haven’t been subscribing to those hifalutin’ magazines like Atlantic or The Nation or The New Yorker or…

That subscription just expired. I will not be renewing it. I don’t need to be told in every issue and damn near every article that I’m guilty, guilty, guilty, the world is going to hell in a handbasket (made by workers under inhumane conditions), and the glass is not only half empty, it probably has dangerous levels of lead. It just became too much of a muchness, particularly since the emphasis seems to be on what’s wrong and why we’re all to blame, not on any possible ways to improve situations. If you just love Harper’s and think I’m a philistine for dropping it, that’s your privilege.

Then there’s Fortune. I essentially got that for free along with an absurdly cheap offer for Money three years ago: $10/year for one magazine with the other tossed in as an extra. Well, OK…

Money either has expired or will shortly (I’m not counting it as part of that 24 magazines and 225 issues). I won’t renew it. I think it could just as easily be named Stocks and come out as a broadsheet: “Buy stocks. Buy more stocks. If your stocks lost half their value, trim expenses…so you can buy more stocks.” Yes, that’s oversimplified; so, in my opinion, is Money. Hell, Schwab’s On Investing (oops: that’s 25–but I don’t know that I count it) is more conservative than Money on the need for everybody to buy lots and lots and lots of stock. (We don’t own a lot of stock. We plan to keep it that way. We may be poorer in the long run, but we sleep a lot better.)

Fortune, on the other hand, surprised me–pleasantly, given that I’m not exactly one of the high-income moguls that might be its target audience. The writing tends to be excellent; the far-right columnists (not all of them) are fairly obvious in their biases; the investigative work is first-rate; articles seem to be “as long as they need to be” rather than diced & sliced to preset lengths. Their investigative report on the BP disaster is, well, let’s say BP executives probably were not pleased–and it’s hard to write off Fortune as some commie liberal radical zine.

So when I got a renewal offer for $20 for three years (that’s 20 issues per year–it’s a sort-of fortnightly), I took it. With pleasure. They must be getting a fair amount of advertising, since the thirtyfour cents an issue I’m paying can’t even cover the postage…

I’m not necessarily fascinated by business and making a fortune–it’s a bit late for the latter in any case. I do love really good writing and research. I used to read the sports section of the San Francisco Chronicle–hell, I used to read Sports Illustrated–even though sports don’t interest me, because the writing was/is so good.

I think the 24 will become 23 before too long: The airline-miles Wired subscription, which was (unfortunately) extended because the first-rate Portfolio from the same publisher folded right after I subscribed to it, has got to expire one of these months. It will not be renewed.

If someone wants to tell me that I really, truly should subscribe to some other Serious Magazine, now that I’ve dropped Harper’s, I’ll definitely listen. Whether I’ll do anything about it…well, we’ll see. There are only so many hours in a day, and I do plan to keep writing, reading books, watching TV, going for hikes and walks, etc., etc…

Major philosophical impact of this post: Zero. Sorry about that.


7 Responses to “Some stay, some go: Notes on magazines”

  1. Paul Mills says:

    You have inspired my wife and I to search for a good deal on Fortune. We both enjoy good writing as well, and I have liked Fortune when I have picked up a copy in a doctor’s office, etc. We are at 11 subscriptions and enjoy them all.

  2. Steven Kaye says:

    Out of curiosity, if the big traditional SF magazines are publishing thicker issues less frequently, at what point does it make sense to say hell with it , we’ll just do an annual anthology? Or is the collection of subscriber data to be sold to mailing lists too compelling to go that route?

  3. walt says:

    At this point, I don’t think subscriber data is a huge issue, as none of the “big three” have more than 25,000 subscribers or so. But a magazine is really different than an anthology; I hope they keep publishing for quite a while. (Also, a year’s worth of any one of them would be one huge anthology!)

    F&SF has been the weakest of the three–financially, that is–for some time; the decision to go to six issues to cut mailing costs was clearly necessary.

    In all three cases, the subscribers have to pay most of the freight because there are so few book ads. Some of us think it’s worth it (I’ve subscribed to Asimov’s throughout its history, actually), but…well, short story markets are tough in all genres.

  4. Angel says:

    I just wanted to say I found this interesting. These days I do a lot of magazine reading online (often because someone pointed to a link to X or Y good article kind of thing). I do like some magazines, but given our small space, them piling up in the apartment could be an issue. Do you keep old issues, recycle? Something else? Would be curious. Once in a while, we may check an issue of something from the public library (you can check most of them, except for a few they won’t let you have the most current).

    I used to read a lot more print magazines in my previous job where we actually had a popular browsing section where we carried stuff from Atlantic to Harper’s to Oprah Magazine to Nat. Review, etc. Availability back then made it easy for me to get a look. My current job lacks such a collection (online is the preferred, and we know that does not lead to browsing).

    Anyways, I did find the insights interesting. As always. . .

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  5. walt says:

    Except for a year’s worth of Consumer Reports and issues sitting in a pile while I use them as source material for C&I, we recycle them. Livermore’s aiming for a 75% drop in landfill waste this year, and I suspect they’ll get there–we have a huge bin (96 gallon) that takes paper, cardboard, metal, plastics 1-7 (and bags wrapped up in bags); another huge bin that takes yard clippings but also green waste of all sorts (the stuff some people would compost–here that’s done on an industrial scale), including paper containers that have food residues…and a little teeny-tiny (20 gallon) container for our actual trash/garbage. [You can get bigger containers, but you appropriately pay more for collection, although I think it’s still cheap by most standards.]

    The result is that we’ve never had so little actual trash–we never fill the teeny-tiny “garbage can.” Magazines and newspapers go in the same bin as cans and plastic.

  6. Angel says:

    Neat. We seriously could use some good recycling efforts where I am at right now. I know there is a small recycling plant somewhere, but nothing really citywide (like bins or anything like that).

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  7. laura says:

    I find this completely fascinating. I like some magazines, but most of them drive me batty because I think the writing is so facile. I only get three — The New Yorker, The Nation, and High Country News (until recently I also got The Horn Book — and I have a fairly strict 30 day rule which says that I recycle anything I haven’t read that’s more than a month old, which cuts down on the piles and also the guilt.

    I get The New Yorker for the writing (and the cartoons), The Nation largely for the columnists and for some articles (and because I’ve had a subscription, thanks to annual birthday gifts from my mother, since I was 16), and HCN because I love the West. I used to get Harper’s but gave it up at some point to save money (and for what it’s worth, I like it a good deal better than The Atlantic, which I think likes controversy more than it likes writing). And I used to get a lot of literary magazines, too, back when I was still submitting to them.

    I also used to love the Smithsonian, which we got when I was a kid and which might be up your alley, though I’m not at all sure you’re looking for more magazines in your life!