My old friend has become famous, which is how I found myself spending last weekend with editors, writers, producers and photographers from OUTSIDE Magazine, AARP Magazine (circulation 46 million), Getty Images, National Geographic and O, The Oprah Magazine. We had gathered to celebrate a milestone in my friend’s life, and after we got bored of saying “50 is the new 30” and reminiscing about the old days our conversation evolved into a dialog about change — changes we had experienced in our careers and changes we are seeing now in the fields of writing, photography and journalism.
From these seasoned journalists, I heard that several major national print magazines have already made the decision to eliminate print circulation within five years.
“Rolling Stone is a perfect example of why this has to happen,” commented one of the photographers. “By the time their article on General McChrystal hit the newsstands, the article had already gone viral and the man had been fired. Print is too slow.”
Another photographer piped in to say that all photographers at his magazine have been told to start shooting videos rather than still photography, “If magazines need a still photo they’ll take it from a digital frame.” I also heard that most media outlets are redesigning their websites almost on a continual basis to keep up with the changes.
All this chatter reminded me of the reading the Loft hosted on June 23rd with author and New Yorker editor Ben Greenman. Ben started fiddling with his phone when he got to the podium and I thought, “Is he really texting during a reading?” Our audience of 100 stirred slightly and then relaxed as Ben said, “I found it! I want to read a short essay from “Superbad” about book blurbs.” This was the first time I’ve seen an author recite his reading from a mobile phone.
When I asked Ben about what change he is seeing, he said that editors are looking for ways to embed music and images into books and everybody is trying to redefine the book tour. “Book readings are so unpredictable,” he lamented. “Sometimes you have seven people show up for an amazing author, and other times you get a couple hundred. I think the most successful readings will be those that cross-pollinate genres with disciplines – such as combining a cookbook author, novelist, and a musician.”
On the final night of my friend’s party, one of the photographers said, “I should be overwhelmed and terrified with all this change, but I’m choosing to be curious.”
A magazine editor chimed in, “There has never been a better time to experiment, because all the rules are being broken. You are risking the most if you are trying to stay the same.”
Jocelyn Hale is the executive director of The Loft Literary Center. This article originally appeared on the Loft’s blog, Writers’ Block.