I bought two magazine issues in the past week or so, to help relieve a few dull spots in airports and taxis and as so often is the case I was soon disappointed by the very predictable content. With no real depth, I found myself skimming the content looking for something seriously different and then I recalled one editor once telling me that he didn’t really want project articles but technique articles. He also told me that he could make several articles from one project article by splitting it and bulking out each split section to become an article in and of itself. That way “readers would keep coming back.” Another editor told me that “cycling through repeat articles with the same content was OK as long as it didn’t occur more than every six months or so.” I always wondered why we see the same articles repeated with only a slight twist periodically. I began to see then that there is not really that much new that one needs to know about in using say a router or a tablesaw that wasn’t known throughout the decades. The outside casings of power tools need to change to become vogue and so too some extra torque, hammer and speed. I think that it would be good to put that R&D into lengthened battery life on lower end power tools myself. Of course there is nothing particularly wrong with any of this until after many years you realize that many editors have an agenda to keep you constantly reading the same stuff year in year out. Changing the wallpaper is what it’s all about and I think that perhaps it’s time to see some changes.
One of the issues is that many editors, especially in the UK, have very little actual woodworking background and are, regardless of what they say, answerable to their advertisers. That makes things difficult for them. Scratch the surface a little and you won’t find very much there. Obviously they have little to draw on from their own background or experience and they have no experience to solidly evaluate what they promote by way of product reviews. Content then has little depth.
I read two leading Woodworking magazines this week. It took me about ten to twenty minutes for each of them. I have to say that the US one has and always will be inspirational, mainly because of the excellent graphics and photography, not for the creative writing skills or indeed writing at all. The series of special projects offered quick easy items to make that woodworkers could make over say a weekend or a few evenings. Of the many articles presented only two used hand tools. This seemed disproportionately biased in my view and meant that the remaining articles were somewhat boring. Of course these magazines are heavily laden not with constructive articles but cloaked advertising. Product reviews and machine tests are in fact advertisements for the companies presenting their products for test. That shouldn’t need saying but anyone coming into the craft may not realize this so it’s best said now. For the main part, many magazine articles are more about how make jigs so that the machine can make what we should be making. They occasionally have a couple of token images using fancy planes and saws as window dressing, but doing little more than adding only an appearance of a balanced presentation.
In the UK, the magazine makes no effort to conceal its imbalanced perspective and so its no wonder its readership is so low. The highest readership of any magazine in the UK is around 10,000. Each month I thumb through this magazine on the newsstand to see if there is anything of substance there but there rarely is. This time I bought one so I could see what the imbalances were. Most of the content was the regurgitation of what the press releases gave them and this is what we see month after month after month.
In this magazine, 30 of the 100 pages was dedicated totally to advertising and self promotion. That’s because they know they have no substance and content in their magazine and therefore have to flesh it out. 17 pages were dedicated to product reviews of some kind, so about half of the magazine is of minimal value to seasoned woodworkers at all. The amazing thing is that we readers are now paying advertisers to advertise things to us that we don’t even want or need. How amazing is that?
I look forward to the day when we see a revival by a magazine not controlled by large companies with an agenda to sell only machines and related equipment. That will be a wonderful day.