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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

The Magazine King and Print’s Future

Jumping out at me on the live-pixel version of The New York Times the other day was a tale about Mohammed Ahmed, proprietor of Casa Magazines at the corner of 8th Ave. and 12th St. in the Big Apple and dubbed the “The Last King of Print” in The NYT story. His emporium offers up some 2,000 different foreign and domestic magazine titles, some of which are available in the city only through Ahmed.

Interestingly, many of the mags in his store are there at the specific request of loyal customers. He’s perfectly willing it seems, to acquire copies of a title that may only appeal to one or two customers. Such customized availability—especially for titles that aren’t available online—is a clear hook for magazinistas who prefer their pages flexible and glossy instead of hard and electronic.

Magazine Café, up on West 37th St., is even larger and there are similar stores in other big cities where local habitués and out-of-towners alike flock to stock up on hard-to-find favorites. It’s a practice that may say a lot about the potential longevity of magazines.

Like much of print, magazines are at the convoluted intersection of old and new consumption models and technologies. In many instances, a look at the print and Web versions of many mags reveals much the same content in each. Most of the really big titles take it up a notch or three, offering online versions using audio, video and compelling graphics that add value and eye appeal. Such sites are complex and expensive to produce, but the richer content can bring the eyeballs advertisers demand.

My own magazine preferences come in the mail, a couple of car magazines along with Fast Company, Outside and Bicycling. The e-version of each is far more than a supplement to the print version, adding more information and providing me yet another way to waste more time in front of the computer (I remain iPadless and tablet-free). These are established, large-circ publications whose ad revenue can support both print and digital.

But consider the many magazines—perhaps a large share of those 2,000 titles at Casa Magazines—that simply cannot afford full-featured Web editions. Each reaches a specific target audience in a way that keeps people reading a given title on a regular basis. While some of these magazines will no doubt go away altogether or follow Newsweek to being digital-only, most will likely take some time to make the migration. Whatever they do, people who like to read the targeted content of magazines will likely do so on both mediums; it does not have to be an either/or thing.

I got a call the other day from a guy who wanted some help with developing a new publication. He’s maybe 25 and had a well-thought-out and carefully articulated vision for a new magazine that would incorporate music, fashion and lifestyle—a frenetically competitive segment of the magazine biz that attracts advertisers and readers alike. And he seemed to have money available.

While I don’t fully understand his target audience at this point, his ideas were sound; and although he knew he’d need to have a web version, his initial research was indicating that he should do a print version first. We’re meeting so I can learn more and we’ll see where this goes, but that a 20-something sees a printed magazine as a showcase for his vision made for an interesting hour on the phone.

Speaking of the preferences of the so-called digital generation, I have two members of that demographic in my family. The one who travels a lot usually takes a book or two and grabs magazines before she jumps on a plane. On a Skype call with her the other day, I asked if an iPad or tablet was on her Christmas list and got back an emphatic “No!” She says she much prefers the look and feel of a physical book or magazine—that she wants to turn the pages. She Skypes, does her blog, watches TV and movies on her MacBook, and runs her daily life and part of her business on her iPhone. But she wants her books nicely bound, and all 250-300 pages of Cosmo and Vogue flexible and glossy.

I told her about Casa Magazines and she’ll likely be stopping in the next time she’s in Manhattan. I’m adding it to my agenda, too. I gotta go see the Magazine King in person.

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