The Ritual

  • 9 August 2013

If you think about it, a print magazine hitting your letterbox is one hell of a push notification.

Afterwards, you collect the thing, deposit it on the side table, and glance at it regularly as you go about your week.

The magazine sits there, reminding you to make time for it sometime soon. And before long you do, you pour that glass, sit down and spend an hour or two of the quality time that we celebrate magazines for providing.

All of that seems wonderfully antiquated and not just a little bit romanticized, of course. Aren’t magazines in trouble precisely because the above scenario isn’t being repeated any longer?

Well, no—not really. Most of the people who do subscribe to magazines have maintained their habit. The problems are elsewhere.

But the transition to digital is looming. That could be bad for The Ritual. A key ingredient is at risk of being lost in translation.

Digital frees us of the physical limitations of print. That is the whole point. We can do things we couldn’t do in print and we can do it all faster, better, cheaper.

But the physicality of print has an important role in The Ritual. And no, I’m not talking of a sentimental-slash-hipsterish longing for the smell and feel of paper and ink. My point is more functional than that. It’s about that time the magazine spent on your side table.

You see, as far as reminder mechanics for magazines go, physically occupying a small portion of the space you call home might be the absolute, unparalleled sweet spot.

The magazine sitting there on your side table. It’s not unsolicited. It does not feign urgency. It makes no claims about importance. But it is persistent. You placed it there, and you will see a tiny glimpse of it, every day, until it’s time for The Ritual.

We have nothing like that in digital. Nothing. After a simple push notification (if you’ve allowed and enabled one), most digital magazines are simply out of sight, out of mind, lost in the Newsstand folder, never to be seen again.

This, I think, is one of our key challenges. Because when you look at the way magazines make money, the way they engage and inspire us, and the way they do these things better than any online alternative, you’ll find The Ritual at the center of it all.