Our issue with issues

Deep in the psyche of media/publishing veterans is an assumption that is not discussed often: Our issue with issues. There’s a lot of talk about the failing advertising-reliant business model for magazines and newspapers, and about the transition away from print to all sorts of digital distribution.

With print, we’re literally bound to packaging, distributing and marketing content in editions. You don’t see single articles – or hourly updates – from Sports Illustrated or the Kansas City Star on the newsstand, unlike their Web counterparts.

Issues have a special place in readers’ minds. Think about the annual fashion, swimsuit and “list” issues. Edit and sales teams alike love this because it helps to organize their work, at least making it seem easier.

This concept of issues is also paramount to the circulation-auditing business and to advertising. Each audit statement is based on the publication’s “analyzed” issue for that time period. Also, the adds and drops for each issue are presented, hanging out to dry the circulator’s dirty laundry.

On the ad front, marketers buy display space in issues and get discounts on frequency. In magazines we even talk about shelf life of an ad because people save their copies and supposedly look at old issues. (This one even I have trouble with since it’s hard enough sometimes to get through current issues.)

Issues are nice because they provide a tidy way for editors to package the day’s, week’s or month’s stories. Looking ahead, though, I won’t care so much about the March issue of blah-blah magazine. If new packaging, distribution and marketing paradigms are more exciting, convenient and efficient, I’ll forget all about my issues. This is one reason I see replica, digital issues of magazines and newspapers as a transition point.

I still want an organized package of what to read that does replicate the value currently handled by editors – especially the goal of showing me what to read/understand so I’m a well-rounded member of society. But our future with (non-print) newspapers and magazines will be sans issue.

If the Kindle or similar has any chance of lasting into the news-reading future, it will have to accommodate a Web-like fluid, self-updating presentation of articles and data, plus more (and more) social interaction.

Instead of reading articles from a specified time period, we could have our cake and eat it, too. Online, articles are just sitting in a database, tagged and waiting to be sorted/filtered to your heart’s content. Show me not only the editor’s top articles for right now, but also (1) by date so I can catch up from previous days; (2) by reader popularity; and (3) by my social networks’ popularity.

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