The golden age of print journalism may be over. But people are still reading magazines. In fact, according to a still fairly recent study, over 90% of adults pick up a magazine (or newspaper) from time to time. Against the odds, that number is even higher among the 18-25 demographic.
Clearly, you need to take these statistics with a grain of salt. But one thing’s for sure: The print magazine is not quite dead yet.
That said, the market for car magazines has undeniably suffered. Readerships for all major titles have gone down, in some cases dramatically. Although most of the big players have survived, their relevance has dwindled and their revenues have imploded.
In many cases, the quality of the content has gone down as well. Which begs the question: Does it make sense to take out a car magazine subscription these days?
Why online has all but destroyed print journalism
It is easy to see why print magazines have it bad. Online journalism offers many of the same features at no cost. Why spend between 5 and 10 quid each month to get the same news you can get on the web for free – and more up to date to boot?
Online car magazines fulfil the desire of car fans for constant updates and information. They allow you to browse their archives to compare reviews, they bring you insights from manufacturers almost in real time. Best of all: Online, you can ‘subscribe’ to as many magazines as you like for free.
The magic of multimedia
To add insult to injury, online rags are capable of offering what print journalism can not: Multimedia. Car review videos are a significant step up from dry, technical and almost unreadable articles and they provide for a lot information which otherwise does not translates well to words.
Some of these videos look as great as a professional TV production. So you can see why many readers have made the switch from a car magazine subscription to getting their news fix on the web.
The print magazines respond
It has taken some time, but car magazine did eventually respond to the challenges posed by the digital competition. One of the most obvious strategies has been to build their own online empires, in which print is merely one part of the equation.
And so, all of the major car magazines now have their own websites (as hubs), youtube channels (for reviews and features) and facebook profiles (for interacting with their fans).
Compared to the online newcomers on the market, they had a few decisive advantages:
- Teams of professional editors who have worked in the trade for decades.
- Direct connections to car manufacturers built over years through personal connections. This is a tremendous benefit when it comes to scoops and first-hand information.
- Access to marketing budgets and advertising. These budgets have become smaller, but they are still the only meaningful source of income for magazines. The established players can offer manufacturers an audience across all of their different platforms, which includes print.
- Thousands of valuable articles in their archives. Some of these serve nostalgic purposes only. Some of them are fascinating contributions to car history.
And so, there quickly came to be a two-tier system. At the top were the traditional car magazines and the handful of major online car publications. Below them was a landscape of small, personal car blogs from around the world, all adding a niche perspective to the debate.
Why print still works
It is more than likely that print publications will cease to exist almost completely in the long run. However, there is a very good reason why print publications have remained surprisingly relevant in the car industry: Despite its technological focus, the car market is not moving at lightning speed. Precisely because of the complexity of engineering and long lead times, shifts in the industry are mostly slow and gradual.
This is why weekly car magazines don’t feel as outdated as most IT-related publications. On the contrary, they offer a perfect, compact summary of the past seven, fourteen or thirty days. Autocar is a great example of just such a weekly publication which has retained its relevance despite heavy competition from digital media.
Monthly magazines have had it harder. But they, too, have a trump up their sleeves: Incredible photography, which still looks and feels better on paper than on a computer screen. The very best of the current crop of print car magazines – including the scene’s undisputed leader, EVO – are almost works of art.
When done well, great storytelling combined with evocative photography can offer something that online videos and texts simply can not.
The comfort of print
ironically, some of the reasons why online car journalism took the industry by a storm are now turning against it. The constant bombardment with news items – many of them rather trivial and hardly worth your time – has created a sense of emptiness and a lack of true emotional attachment to many of the new online only outlets. It is telling that for many readers, the facebook comments section and the forums are their preferred go-to-locations, rather than the journalistic content.
Print may be slower. But this also means it needs to be more selective and focus on the truly relevant news pieces. It takes you away from the screen for a few minutes, encouraging you to treat their articles with a bit more respect and time.
Also, and this is not an entirely trivial aspect, you can collect them! Most online content simply disappears in the vast galaxy of zeros and ones. Each print issue, meanwhile, is a little slice out of history. Each issue takes you back in time, just like old photos of family and friends can.
So, should you take out a car subscription?
There is something wonderfully romantic about car magazines, as we showed you in our overview of the best car magazines in the UK. And yet, we should be honest and face up to a simple truth. Most of them are rather bland and hardly worth the paper they’re printed on. The brutal reduction in budgets has meant that most stories are shorter and the quality of the writing has often gone down. Ads have become cheaper, too. Which is why many editors feel they need to cram in as many possible to make ends meet.
Taking out a car magazine subscription is therefore more a question of manifesting your love for cars rather than one of need. If you’re a true fan, then picking up your weekly copy of Autocar or your monthly issue of EVO is just one part of the big puzzle of a much wider obsession.