Communities and Magazines

I wanted to share just one example from my life where the web has altered my need for magazines. I will also look at how magazines can evolve to serve their audiences in new ways as their behavior changes.

One of my hobbies is an obsession with stereo equipment. There is a whole culture built around swapping out stereo components to create a lifelike music experience in your living room.

In the past, this is how I would interact with the hobby and stereo community:

  • Magazines, such as Stereophile
    This was a primary source of education and information about new components, and how to rethink my system.
  • Local stereo store
    Here, I could not only see and play with the latest components, but their sales staff were among the few human beings I could actual chat with about this.

  • Local stereo clubs
    Yes, I was a member of The New Jersey Audio Society. This involved monthly meetings at member’s houses, gawking at their systems, listening, and me avoiding conversations about classical music.

This is how I experience the hobby today:

  • Online forums to discuss issues, ideas and products with people from around the world. Unlike many magazine articles, I can find out about equipment that may not be the absolute latest model out there. I also find a wide range of reviews that give me a more balanced look at a product, than a single article would. I now have an unprecedented access to experts. In fact, with all of my research, there are many ways that I have become an expert on aspects of this hobby. The delineation between expert and consumer has blurred dramatically.
  • Photo galleries of people’s stereo systems.
    This is vastly different from store displays or setups at conferences. Here you get to see how people mix equipment from different generations and setup their listening area. It is easy to contact these people too, so that you can ask questions based on the photos.
  • Online classifieds have dramatically lowered the barrier for entry to purchase equipment. There is a thriving second-hand community out there that typically sells equipment for 50% or more of retail. I now have access to 50+ years worth of equipment, not just a few brands, and newest models that the local store carries. I can easily purchase several types of one component, and compare and contrast them within my system, without much financial risk. It is easy to sell the components I don’t want on the same website I bought them from, for the same price.
  • Online search. I can now search archives from online publications, blogs, enthusiasts websites, manufacturers, and other resources who have archived their material online. If I am curious about an 8 year old cd player, I am instantly presented with a plethora of information. What’s more, I can compare product reviews across dozens of sources. There is no single authority, but a community of voices that helps me make decisions.

Overall, I am communicating with many more people within this hobby. Instead of trying to find the 6 people in my area who are interested in this, I can instantly communicate with enthusiasts from around the world. If I post a question to the forum, it can be mere minutes before I get a response, and I have seen conversations go on well into the evening. I can also search years worth of online conversations in the forum archives.

So the idea of receiving a monthly issue of a magazine that only deals with the latest technology (that I can’t afford), and offers no two-way communication, is simply not as useful to me. I don’t want to be spoken to and sold to; I want a community to interact with.

Here are the lessons that I can pull out of my experience that can help magazines evolve to meet the needs of their audience:

  • A changing role:
    Magazine brands are no longer THE source. However, their brand reach, staff of experts, and relationships in their industry allows them to become THE connector. Their role is no longer to simply speak to the audience – it is to help them speak to each other, and make connections that enhance their lives.

  • Sharing the stage:
    Experts in every industry are becoming more accustomed to communicating and sharing their knowledge. Magazines can tap into these people to become a part of the brand. One way to do this is through blogs. I am not talking about occasional contributions, I mean becoming an active voice in the magazine.
  • Focus on the passion:
    Never lose site of the key elements that the audience is passionate about. To build community, start small and focus on the one item that gets people excited. For all the time I spend with my stereo “hobby,” it is still all about the music.

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