Michael Wolff Blames Display Ads for Bringing Down the Magazine Industry

Michael Wolff, editor of Adweek and veteran of the magazine industry, accompanied the announcement of Adweek‘s annual Hot List, not, as you might have thought, with bubbly optimism for the magazine business, but rather with an article lamenting the end of the industry’s Golden Age, and detailing what exactly has gone wrong.

There are many theories about the forces that undermined the business—even before the Internet came along—discount subs, which ruined a once strong revenue stream; conglomeration, which took the soul of the product; Tina Brown, who jacked up the cost of making the product; the Macintosh, which made every magazine look like every other; and the terrible recession of 1991…And then the Internet came along… And then the Great Recession.

But none of these reasons are why the magazine industry isn’t what it used to be — it’s because “copywriters and art directors fell out of love with magazines.” Wolff argues that we used to read magazines for all of the gorgeous ads, but as magazines themselves, the internet, television, and the world at large became a dizzying maelstrom of images, magazine display ads lost their lustre. And now they just don’t work like they used to.

He ends with the question: “How about getting people to read them?” Maybe with so many images about, consumers are now desperate to interact with words. Something about reading advertisements in magazines strikes us as shady. Which is why it might be a good idea.