Apparently Tim hasn't seen publications like Wallpaper and Monocle (both created by Tyler Brûlé). Ironically, those kinds of aspirational/luxury magazines are printed on heavy stock, and therefore lack a few of the traits that he enjoyed about The Atlantic.
Wallpaper and Monocle are good illustrations of the thoughtful design and editorial that go into creating the luxury experiences Tim highlights. Design and editorial are not proprietary to medium or technology. While time for thoughtfulness is more endemic to the print production process, at least 9 of 18 points made in the piece are possible in digital and print.
Clean typography and wonderful images on uncluttered pages is possible online. "Sweaty desperation" and intrusive tracking and come-ons are decisions people made or decided to ignore. Thoughtful UX consideration of the whole package in addition to the component pieces / articles also works for products online and IRL.
> Everything has trade offs and as time goes on I value the benefits of technology less and less. I believe this has more to do with age than any sort of absolute value judgement.
For me it's long observation of tech improvements not improving happiness or contentment. More choices, more efficiency—just means more time trying to decide, and that you're expected to do more and context-switch more in less time.
I think there was probably a sweet spot somewhere along the line—or probably a bunch of sweet spots, for separate things—and in many respects we're way past it now.
This quote comments on our prejudices about technology, but has nothing to say about whether or not a given development in technology is actually good or bad. Things don't always have to just keep getting better, and often, in practice, they don't. So, the challenge is to firewall our immediate response to something in tech from our overall evaluation of it.
Technologists have long pushed a vision of some kind of totalitarian digital convergence, where all your needs are satisfied by a device, and no other non-device solutions need exist. Some of this was good - it's a genuine benefit to have phone, camera, notepad, calendar, calculator, music, weather forecast, etc. all condensed into one handheld device. But the vision isn't content to stop at sensible integrations. It pushes for things like all human interaction to be tech-mediated (social media). It pushes for blocking out the real world entirely (VR).
We shouldn't be throwing out tech where it's beneficial. But we should know where to stop.
> We shouldn't be throwing out tech where it's beneficial. But we should know where to stop.
Using tech and delivery media where it works is up to creators and consumers. Our preferences, biases, and vested interests are in where we choose to invest time and other resources. This isn't proprietary to magazines, platforms or tech.
Pursuing conversations about what do we *want* to do?what *can* we do?what *should* we do? sheds light on the Where and How.
"Luxury Media" purveyors can choose to be a magazine, app, or ps5 title, or they can choose to be where people will find/read/watch/play with what they're making.
All I have to say is: a variety of stationary and a well-lit writing surface, and my tactile needs are mostly spoken for.
There's technology in stationary too, but it's unsurprising. There are only so many ways of applying pigments and dyes to paper, and if you put serious money into the supplies you top out on practical utility very quickly.
I've had the same experience for the last ten years when I had just turned twenty. I don't think it has to do with age, it has to do with the abundance of tiresome and exchangeable digital content mostly over the last decade or so.
Young people too are more looking for tactile media, smaller shops, smaller communities to chat with even, and so on. Handcrafted content is becoming more popular even within digital media.
Several years ago I wrote a couple of articles for a luxury magazine that you could only get with a $500+/year newspaper subscription, and the newspaper itself was a luxury product before it went downmarket to access a more aspirational readership.
The big question is what concepts like luxury and premium really mean. There's an "I know it when I see it," aspect to it, and when it's not real, it seems cheap. While making a living in the early 00's as a vulnerability researcher and pen-tester, I moonlighted as a writer and was part of a clique of fashion writers who had access to events, products, and perks from global luxury brands and haute fashion houses, and what I learned from it is that when people use words like "cool" and "sexy" what they mean is "powerful." The question of what luxury is is whether it signals alignment to power, and not just narrative, but to the only real power that prevails, which is human desire.
Trouble is, what's changed in the last decade or so is that the people who are powerful now are no longer desirable. They have no eros. Politicians are mostly vapid, unattractive celebrities mouthing talking points like actors, and desirable celebrities like actors and musicians are just disposable commodities. Tech has produced a superclass of uncanny and unfuckable weirdos who regular people don't even envy because even for the billions of dollars, nobody wants to be like them. I think a fundamental disconnect between power and desire has emerged, where undesirable people have the reins of power, and all of our media is produced based what somebody thinks someone else -should- want. The result is that our current media is a reflected simulacrum of art that is not the product of a single persons actual belief or love, and it doesn't bear fruit in the form of inspiration to others. The culture changed from admiring and appreciating artists to competing to worship gatekeepers for access to attention, and the media business of mediating art is spectacularly dead.
The only true luxury now is privacy, which is "free to those who can afford it, and very expensive to those who can't," and that's the one thing a mass media business cannot survive in. It's also the one thing that these new undesirable powers can't tolerate, because a place for sharing genuine desire necessarily excludes them. Luxury media now is the ability to access niche views based on your level of competence or education, free from the compromises and hustles of mobs and influencers. It's practically membership in a conspiracy. Maybe that's the play. A conspiracy of craft, maybe.
I think some part of the luxury experience is the intentionality involved in buying a physical magazine.
I’ve been a subscriber to a number of publications that might be considered luxury media - think the Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement, and New York Review of Books, and more popular (“middlebrow”) titles like the Economist and New Yorker. In almost every case where there wasn’t some utilitarian value proposition, I found myself opening the covers (or apps) less and less over time while still getting unreasonably excited when buying single issues at airport newsstands and such.
Buying things makes us feel good. Intentionally purchasing a magazine also gives us time to dig into other rituals we like. It spreads the cognitive load of information gathering we do all the time: We've bought into the PoV of editors and designers who crafted the experience and got our attention. They're now curators of our filter for as long as they deliver on the promise we bought into at the newsstand. We've got more cycles to enjoy and ingest/digest/synthesize what's been put together for us.
Another example is https://www.palladiummag.com/subscribe/ -- it costs a pretty penny at $50/mo with issues only being released once a quarter, so $150 per issue. But I do think of it as more of a "thank you" gift for a charitable donation to a project I support, since I believe all the articles in each one are all available online before the print version comes out.
Any recommendations for magazines? I wouldn't mind subscribing to one or two so I have something to casually browse when I'm tired of staring at a monitor. It seems like when I buy magazine at a store though, it's 60% ads, 30% sponsored articles, and 10% interesting content. I'm usually left wondering why I just spent $10 to look at advertising. Do good ones actually exist?
I think my favourite, overall, is The New Yorker. Good blend of culture, current affairs, as well esoteric/niche interest stories. In my uneducated opinion, very well written and edited. I always skip the local goings-on-about-town (as I'm not in NYC), and will often skip the short fiction as well. There are pages with ads, but I've never considered it a nuisance like in some other mags.
I've tried reading a few other publications but find them a chore or a bore to get through.
Jacobin is great if your politics swing that way. Zero ads or sponsored content or anything, and each issue goes pretty in depth into a timely theme. The latest issue, for example, is all about inflation
Print definitely has its advantages, though it's quite the bulky medium if you're collecting a lot of information.
Larger-format e-book readers (10" or 13" displays) offer an excellent reading experience, including near-paper-sharp text rendering (200--300 dpi). Most devices are monochrome, and even the colour devices that do exist are far from the high-saturation of a four-colour glossy-paper print, but most greyscale imagery translates well, line-art and halftones especially so.
For e-book materials (PDF, ePub, DJVU, etc.) the distractions of animation and rerendering don't exist. E-ink doesn't offer all of paper's affordances and robustness, but it is readable in bright sunlight (unlike emissive displays) and well-designed systems make navigation and annotation effortless. As a web-tablet, the annoyances of the digital world intrude to a much greater extent, and I'm finding myself increasingly less enamoured of the HTML + CSS + JS environment, though it's usually tolerable. The ability to have a large library at one's fingertips and easily slipped into a bag or backpack is its own luxury.
I've noticed that the periodicals section at drugstores and airports have shifted to 'evergreen' type of content as well. I've seen special issues on Beatles, Bob Dylan, Cure and Nirvana with tons of high-quality pictures and trivia.
I actually have a music fanzine about of my own, focused on 1990s shoegaze . Certainly not 'luxury media' by any means, more of a visual, in-print collage of my writing and research on the subject. A lot of that era never made it into the internet age, and what is documented online is not far away from 404-ing into the great beyond.
I once subscribed to a paper magazine. But since like the second month, I found I never read it, barely have time for it. Those paper just goes straight to the trash. It's luxury in the sense that a lot of waste is created in the process of consumption. But on-demand printing might solve the problem.
I used to pay for the MIT Tech Review printed magazine until i realised its basically useless, devoid of novelty and everything in it could be found online. I see no benefit in printed magazines, they follow the exact same trends and chase the exact same outrage as online.
I'm going to push back a little bit against "The Modern Luxury" set of magazines. It feels like (and I believe it is) those glossies you see in nice hotel rooms about the city where you are staying. The problem is that, while the pictures are usually nice, the content feels like the equivalent of an "SEO page" - that is, the content is extremely low quality in my opinion. These days it feels like there is not a lot of daylight between the "articles" in those types of magazines and AI-generated text.
This is in contrast to magazines like The Atlantic, The Economist, etc. where the actual articles are unique and not available elsewhere.
Totally accept that this could just be my bias and not a universal feeling.
It occurs to me that there's a market opportunity here for better online magazine experiences, too. Some kind of reading client that can reliably remove all prompts, adverts, etc. Spotify Premium-style from a wide series of magazine-style websites and reformat their content's layout according to user preferences, for a fee that covers operations and payments to publications.
But would it, if successful, lead to a repeat of the tv-streaming giants' arms races and declines? Cause right now, to give an example, most Condé Nast and Springer websites are not as obnoxious and unfriendly as Netflix and I wouldn't want to get two or three years of them being better than they are right now if it meant that, in the long run, the entire publisher-run parts of the web went down the toilet. If nothing else, I like Scientific American.
>INQUE is a beautiful annual literary magazine dedicated to extraordinary new writing. Documenting what is going to be an era-defining decade, it will run no advertising, have no web version, and only ever publish 10 issues.
The Daily Mail is probably the single most effective print publication anywhere in the world. It knows exactly what its readers want and gives it to them. Like it or not, that kind of content is what's in demand.
This is a little quip, but IMO radio shows often are much better than today's "podcasts."
It feels like a majority of what people call podcasts today are just random people talking to each other, often impromptu. It's often by people with no interview skills and no sense for how to produce engaging radio. And, more often than not, it feels like background noise. Sometimes that's enjoyable, but honestly if that's what I'm looking for I'll just listen to Howard Stern, the BBC or NPR.
What I loved about podcasts was that it was a medium which allowed for really great radio drama and storytelling. For the longest time what a podcast was, to me, was Radiolab, This American Life, Serial, The Moth, The Truth, etc.. Something with some real sound design behind it… where someone is trying to create something both engaging and enjoyable to listen to. When podcasts started to blow up after Serial I really hoped that we'd get more of that. But it seems like what we've gotten is a proliferation of random people just… rambling.
This makes me sound pretentious AF but I really do not understand why people listen to some of this stuff. Every now and then I'll listen to something new in the top 20 list and well… I think I'm getting to the "back in my day we walked up hills both way" age now, but man… the majority of today's podcasts are really bad. Like, physically painful to actually listen to. I don't know how and why people do. It feels like garbage tier radio.
Your local radio show will undoubtedly be better than the average podcast because there's no barrier to entry for podcasts. However, the high tier podcasts are on average way better than anything your local radio show can produce.
Radio is (usually) constrained by the fact that it has to appeal to a broad audience. There are exceptions, but they're rare, and are fighting the medium and its market.
Podcasts ... can be exceedingly niche. Which means that narrow-focus programmes can exist. Peter Adamson's The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, now in its second decade (it launched in 2010), and which seems quite likely to extend to three or four, with luck and funding. Truly a life's work. I'm not sure how niche it is with 25 million downloads (though that spread over more than 400 episodes). But it's truly excellent.
There's also increasingly little daylight between radio and podcasts, with many radio programmes (particularly on public broadcasting) now existing in podcast versions.
Yes, there's a lot of dreck, but the, Sturgeon was right about crud prevalence. The key is to look at the best of what's produced, not the worst or average. And for media, formats, and/or platforms in which that best can in fact thrive.
I've somewhat north of 70 podcast subscriptions, some stumbled across, some long-time faves prior to the advent of podcasting, some recommended, some provisionally subscribed to to fit some interest or goal (languages and topics amongst these).
And yes, my sense is that the best podcasts are not of the 2--5 randos just talking back and forth, but tend to be either scripted or structured in some way. The best seem to have either a single narrator, or a small number of interviewed subjects or hosts --- even in long-form discussion, more than 3--4 people seems to end up being unsatisfying other than perhaps as a series of lectures or a Q&A.
One of the main points of what people call "podcasts" (and streams as well) is creating parasocial relationships that make mind-numbing chores more pleasant by making it seem like you're hanging out with a group of friends in the background.
To that end, stuff like interviewing skills, presentation, depth of discussion, is unnecessary and maybe even detrimental. What matters is rawness, authenticity, serendipity and light-heartedness. When you listen to this stuff, you're not deeply engaging with the content.
I have to be honest. If forced to choose between saving the life of a libertarian techbro about to be hit by a train or a plate of really delicious brownies that was falling to the floor, I would hesitate a couple thousand milliseconds before saving the person.
There is a not a non-zero chance of the plate of brownies destroying human lives in order to get enough impressions to meet a quarterly ad serve goal.