I, magazine geek: Why I love magazines, Psychologies, and the “changing of the month” in WHSmith

The kind of thing you get on Google if you type in “print is dead”. SIGH.

Everyone says print is dead. I, for one, seem to bear out that theory, spending nearly all my waking hours online, connected.

Like a lot of my peers, I consume media online, 99% of it for free (The Times subscription excepted), and I get mildly peeved when magazines have rubbish websites or news agencies expect me to get my credit card out just to read a piddly 200 words of copy.

Yes, I am part of the “print is dying” problem. And, as a journalist, surely I should know better. After all, I want to be paid for my work (and I consider myself fairly lucky in this day and age that generally, I am paid for it. FINALLY).

But I also want media to be easy to consume, to be Google-able, share-able, bookmark-able. Not only so that I can procrastinate by reading it when I probably shouldn’t, but also so that I can keep better track of the best articles when I want to. Online often means free. Online means easy-to-use and find, with access from various platforms (laptop, phone, tablet).

That’s the theory, anyway.

So why is my life still punctuated by the thrill of seeing new magazines on the newsstand? Why do I still care about layout, sub-editing, and the feel of paper?

WHSmith – my spiritual newsagent home

As a little kid living in France, I used to get excited when I saw the package my grandmother used to send from England ‒ the Beano for my brother, Mizz magazine or Bliss for me.

That thick, paper package heralded the moving forward of the months, a new selection of pages to rifle, a new book of brightly-coloured missives from a community of girls who were, against all probability, like me.

I still feel that way now, even though new technology means that I would never have to wait for such content ever again. Technically, it’s all at my fingertips. So why do I still care so passionately about the first few days of the month – when all the magazines change?

I wanted to work in magazines from a pretty young age, when I realised that I was quite good at spelling and writing, and when I realised that writing for magazines means that in theory, you get to talk to loads of interesting people about their interesting lives (hopefully making up, I thought, for the fact that I never knew what I personally wanted to focus on). It all started with those new magazines, posted through our door every month.

Psychologies_jennifer lawrenceNow, after dalliances with Glamour, Marie Claire, the now-defunct Easy Living and a few affairs with Red, my favourite magazine is Psychologies.

Largely aimed at older women than me, it is nevertheless bang up my street, focusing on mental health, ways to happiness, how to manage depression and anxiety, and how to “let go” of what diminishes and reduces your life. It isn’t obsessed with celebrities, fashion, “aspirational” materialist bullshit, unhealthy diets, and other things that really get my goat about modern women’s magazines.

I am lucky enough to have met the editor, and know a couple of people who write for it. I am always humbled by its content and find it to be that “real magazine thing” – something with which you want to sit down, with a biscuit and a coffee, and get stuck into.

There are no open-mouthed, dead-eyed, under-nourished models in ridiculous outfits here. The relatively-small beauty section focuses on how to maintain your skin/hair/nails health rather than fashion, and the only column on clothes generally talks about the psychological links between dressing and your personality.

It does have celebrity interviews but asks them about their thoughts and feelings, rather than the sensationalist elements of their love life, or how great their cleavage looks in a dress. Features are about the benefits of getting a dog (I recently met the amazing woman who wrote that piece – more on that another day), how to feel happy, the benefits of therapy, how to let go, how to feel calm, how to be confident, how not to hold a grudge.

Its adverts are about health supplements, wellbeing holidays, useful beauty products and slow-food breaks.

For the past five years or so, my ultimate dream has been to launch a magazine just like it, but for women my age. (Despite the fact that by the time I theoretically get to that point, I’ll probably be the right age for the current offering anyway. Such is life.)

Of course, Psychologies has a website, which has recently been relaunched, but it’s not at all like reading the magazine. Good or bad, it still operates on a fairly traditional set-up, in that the website is just an addition to the mag, rather than the main platform, and the magazine the slowly-dying counterpart. I for one, hope that never happens.

Because, despite my online addiction, I love buying the physical magazine. That “change over” time in the shops is still magical for me.

Right now, it’s near the beginning of the month, and I know that one lunchtime soon, I’ll wander through the crowds of the station near my work to the newsagent’s, and spend a happy half an hour poring over all the new issues – considering the thinking behind that cover star, wondering what they’ve got inside this month, sneakily reading the best pieces in the magazines I probably won’t buy (BAD JOURNALIST).

I’ll consider a new purchase, if one particularly catches my eye – such as this month’s Red, or the latest interview in Glamour, which is still a bit of a nostalgic, guilty pleasure. I’ll marvel at the Women’s Fitness issue, or the Yoga World import from the US, and consider the merits of Vogue and wonder why people love it so much.

I’ll look at the newer titles, and hope that they survive, and mentally applaud the people brave enough to launch new paper magazines in this day and age. I’ll rejoice at new ones, and lament the holes that I still see despite their being long gone – the recently-closed Zest (which I used to buy), and the now-online-only Easy Living. I’ll have a triumphant peek at the magazine I work for, have a quick leaf through our main competitor, and still feel a little bit surreal about the fact that these days, I write for, and know people who write for, titles that sit on these very shelves.

I’ll look at the foreign titles in the languages I speak – French and Spanish and smattering of Italian – and wonder if I should buy them to improve my skills. I’ll feel simultaneously happy at the massive selection, and overwhelmed by the choice, and the number of titles I could potentially write for if I was a better, more persistent, more creative, better-at-pitching journalist, with 48 hours in the day.

But I always keep Psychologies until last, appreciating its use of cover stars who aren’t half-naked or dressed in some Dolce & Gabbana contraption, and wondering at its near-perfect ability to align its headlines and focus to what’s going on in my own life. If the best magazines know their readers the best, then Psychologies is up there with the greats.

My love for the magazine has become a bit of a running joke among my friends, who tease me about its supposedly-“boring” focus, it’s middle-aged-woman audience and its earnestness.

I laugh with them because I can totally see what they mean – it’s not as glamorous as the magazines peppered with A-listers and glossy handbags. But when all is said and done, it’s in that magazine that I find my people. My motivation. My feeling that I’m not alone.

It’s that magazine that spurs me on to believe that magazines are not dead. That print still has purpose.

Despite being addicted to the Internet, I still don’t subscribe to Psychologies – despite buying every single copy for the past 4 or 5 years – because I still savour that feeling of going into the newsagents, seeing it on the shelf, and buying a physical copy of it.

It is quite literally an extension of that package my grandma used to send, except now I have my own freedom and money to go out and buy it myself. That means a lot.

Somehow, downloading it on to my phone or tablet, or even getting it through the door, just isn’t the same. That lunchtime trip to WHSmith is like a little escape to my own world, where, despite still being surrounded by people, I remember why I loved magazines in the first place, and how there are people out there, writing, speaking, organising events, on things that I love and that matter to me.

It’s a strange thing that in today’s hyper-connected, “free” world, I still feel the need to pay nearly £4 per month for a collection of dead tree leaves. But there it is.

Print might be dying in many areas and forms, but as long as people like me still relish that physical, expensive copy of their favourite magazine, I harbour a small hope that they will continue to survive.

Not least for the security of my own job – which is, as a trade magazine, still largely focused on the print side of things despite the constantly-updated website and digital issue ‒ but also for my own entertainment and love of intelligent, consumer magazine communities like Psychologies.

Yes, magazines are expensive, take up loads of space, aren’t email-able, and are non-interactive. But they are still small packages of sense – missives of solid, tangible conversations.

And although I can’t bookmark their pages or save them to Instapaper (a site that allows you to “pin” online pages to look at later), every now and again, I find a quiet afternoon to go through my old copies (which are invariably taking up too much space in my bedroom) and clip out my favourite pieces, and stick them in a scrapbook.

It’s a nostalgic, old-fashioned process, reminiscent of school fun with Pritt Stick, and entirely non-computer based. It’s like being a kid again – like those Grandma-sent packages.

Good magazines are like tangible anchors in a frenetic, drifting, ever-more digital world.

I’m not a technophobe: I love the Internet for its many advantages and its ability to open doors to worlds and people you would otherwise never see or meet.

But, against all odds, I also love the “changing of the month” in WHSmith.

Long may it exist.

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Vagenda: There’s hope for women’s magazines yet

If there’s something my ‘I’m Loving’ category was made for, it’s new ‘blog’ magazine (would we say ‘blogazine’? Pushing it slightly, perhaps? Hmm), Vagendamag.blogspot.com.

Vagenda screenshot

Vagenda..."Like King Lear...but for girls"

A hilarious and pithy array of comments, features, rants, letters, satire and spoofs, it sends up the stupidest, most nonsensical, hypocritical elements of the women’s magazine industry and all its friends, with special emphasis on the surreptitious ways in which it sets back the cause of feminism by several decades every single month.

Don’t get me wrong, I myself want to work in magazines, and I don’t want to tar them all with the same brush, or say that absolutely everything held within their covers is complete rubbish. While I am a deeply committed follower of the gloriousness that is Psychologies Magazine, I will happily admit that an evening in with Glamour (which, despite its title, in this country delivers a less-shallow or aggravating read than competitor Marie Claire, which has gone seriously downhill into shameless fashion-adoration in recent years) can be a light, if intellectually unchallenging, way to unwind.

As has been said at length already by many others more skilled with a keyboard than me, being a feminist doesn’t mean rejecting all the trappings of womanhood, and never appreciating the relevance of stories on PMS, dating, which mascara will help you look less shattered of a morning, methods of contraception, whether to have kids now or later, and bemoaning the shit boys do while looking heart-meltingly hot in jeans*.

But a passing appreciation for all that jazz doesn’t mean that I don’t share the Vagenda writers’ deep disdain for the ridiculously patronising way certain publications talk to their readers: the shameless advertising that goes against all the ‘love yourself’ messages that the editorials ostensibly proclaim; the sycophantic celebrity interviews or the constant ‘diet’ advice. The often-demeaning and simplistic suggestions dished out as a response to ‘women’s problems’; the token ‘politics and investigative journalism’ features that get a grand total of one-to-two pages sandwiched between the never-ending fashion ‘must-haves’ ‒ and above all, the slightly unhinged obsession with beauty, makeup and clothes that cost more than the average person’s living wage, which for some ridiculous reason have been deemed as only looking worthwhile on a size 6, five foot eleven model (or, worse, some ‘curvy’ woman held up for all as having the new ‘perfect body’ ideal, each time as unattainable for millions of women than the last).

And don’t even get me started on the slow inexorable slide from initially-ironic usage of words such as ‘OMG!!!!’, to the full-blown daily shitstorm of utterly vacuous, ‘so totes amaze’ bollocks and other linguistic gems designed to reduce the female reader to little more than a well-dressed, simpering creature of consumption with nought but a passing interest in anything remotely meaningful or even mildly grammatical. It started the day Glamour put ‘OMG’ on its front cover, and it’s been on a downward spiral ever since.

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