Rod Mollise worries about the decline of astronomy magazines — namely, Astronomy and Sky and Telescope. Fewer pages on cheaper paper, staff turnover, schizophrenic content — all as a result of rising production costs and robust competition from the Web. It’s the same story I’ve heard elsewhere: magazines are hurting generally, genre and niche magazines especially so; see, for example, previous entries The decline of the science fiction magazine and The incredible shrinking Trains.
How print magazines can stay relevant in an online world is undoubtedly the industry question. I know that they can, otherwise a plugged-in putz like me wouldn’t keep subscribing to them. And print magazines can’t be inevitably doomed, or else The New Yorker wouldn’t have been able to buck the trend and become profitable after decades of losing money. And note that when it comes to books, the opposite is happening: e-books are struggling. Magazines can’t compete with the Internet on timeliness or cost — not when magazine subscription costs are rising and Web sites are free — and people don’t mind reading shorter pieces online. There is a solution or two out there, and Mollise tries to come up with some specific to the astronomy mags: stop trying to compete with the Internet on news, offer more reviews and distinctive content. In other words, be more interesting, more distinctive — more essential. These are not bad ideas.