Commercial vs Indie and The Democratisation of Media

As the search for Glenda Bailey's successor as Editor in Chief of Harper's Bazaar continues slowly and without success, is this a further confirmation that the 'commercial' print industry is losing traction and the importance it once held before?

Commercially printed magazines have been struggling to survive for a while now, as demonstrated by the many industry professionals choosing to go freelance and start collaborations with brands, as well as budget cuts across the media industry. Although there has been much debate on this topic and, in particular, after more or less twenty years arguing whether the digital revolution would be the end of print, the independent print scene, in contrast, appears to have risen from its ashes like a phoenix. 

After all, isn't print fantastic? For true fans of the printed page, this may not come as a surprise, as collecting beautifully designed and curated magazines, books and zines can become an obsession, a real pure, otherworldly pleasure of sorts. How has this happened? And why is the independent scene gaining so much traction in comparison to its commercial printed counterpart?  

"Magazines capture and distil a time. Everything is so fast-paced, things quickly disappear into oblivion," said Alexia Marmara, Archive Manager of HYMAG (formerly Hyman Archive), the London-based magazine archive defined by the Guinness World Record as the 'Largest Collection Of Magazines'. "People are tired of scrolling and swiping, they want the physical. And they also want to stick it to the man and make sure independent print respects talent and work," she said. 

In their choice to rejuvenate rather than reject print, this particular scene has been focusing on a celebration of underrepresented manifestations of popular culture and creative work from independent producers of fashion, design, the visual arts, photography, music and film. Starting from the originals, Kinfolk, Apartamento, Mousse and Kaleidoscope – which set the blueprint for the modern indie magazine scene – young creatives have been literally turning anything ranging from boring, to esoteric, to ironic intro real works of art published through the pages of each of their issues. 

"Indie magazines have been used over time to narrate different points of views on both ordinary and non-topics and everyday life," stated Saul Marcadent, PHD and curator with a focus on publishing, now a research fellow at IUAV University of Venice. "Some of them became representative of what is now considered a normal way of interpreting contemporary culture."

However, is this proliferation of indies another example of the democratization of media? In an essay exploring the Aesthetics of Media in Transition, editors and professors David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins state that the increasing ubiquity of technology and the relative easiness of its mediums, may have led to more widespread digital and design literacy. Thus, meaning that the creation of magazines can now be made by more people than ever before, without a prohibitive investment of economic capital.  On the other hand, because of this newly gained expertise in digital literacy, these new publishers are increasingly aware of the need to supply their printed products with a digital and social footprint, which has become a mandatory requisite in today's intensely interconnected world, both for indies and mainstream media.

In point of fact, according to a report by FIPP, the international global trade association specialized in content and media research, in collaboration with UPM Communication Papers, "print's resilience is being driven by its ability to fit in with and alongside a universe that combines all platformsSuccessful magazines have reinvented themselves as brands that serve their audience via a range of channels, of which print is just one." 

Nonetheless, although a digital footprint is absolutely necessary nowadays, it seems as if everything has been done and redone and, with references wearing thin and becoming limited on the internet, creatives are looking for lesser-known reference points for unseen material. Thus turning indies the new mainstream or more precisely more attractive to an audience tired of the same old fashion stories. 

Will this cycle ever end? The only hope is that creators don't lose the will to create high-quality printed products. After all, "magazines continue today to go through reinvention and rebirth to adapt to a capricious/high end/blazé audience," concluded Marmara.

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