Newsletter 11: Behold, the new magazines

When was the last time you bought or subscribed to a print magazine?

This week in Singapore, news broke that Thambi Magazine Store, an iconic roadside magazine shop, would be closing after being in business for over 80 years. Its long-time customers were upset, but my cold-hearted reaction was “How has this shop survived for the past ten years?”

CNA article on 3rd May 2024, story by Grace Yeoh.

In other news that you might have missed, Reader’s Digest UK announced that it was shuttering after 86 years (Press Gazette). Its editor Eva Mackevic wrote on LinkedIn: “Unfortunately, the company just couldn’t withstand the financial pressures of today’s unforgiving magazine publishing landscape and has ceased to trade.”

According to the Press Gazette, “The print circulation of Reader’s Digest UK is no longer published by ABC. The latest available is 106,335 in July to December 2016. This compares to a circulation of 403,458 in the first half of 2010 and more than one million in 2001.”

2016 was eight years ago. Can you imagine the 2024 circulation numbers?

Print magazines were the tastiest part of my reading diet when I was younger. My family subscribed to Time magazine for many years. In the 1980s, I stood for hours in the magazine aisle at Times The Bookshop (dying) and Borders (dead) for hours reading tech magazines like PC Mag, Computer Gaming World and Edge. When I saved up enough money in the 1990s, I would buy Wired for its beautiful layouts, deep tech stories and heavy-stock paper.

Nostalgia is lovely and full of nice “smell-of-paper-in-my-hands” musings, but don’t forget that print magazines took up space and had to be thrown away after a while. They were also expensive – I preferred buying books over magazines for better long-term value.

And while many print magazines have died a natural death, new forms of magazines are now thriving at massive scale and reaching more people than ever.

No, I’m not talking about PDF versions of magazines. I think it’s silly… why give me a print magazine layout with tiny text on a 10-inch tablet screen when you can have dynamic digital layouts with resizable fonts??

I’m referring to podcasts, YouTube videos, newsletters and ebooks.

The power of long-form content

What makes magazines a great read? You might think it’s the pretty pictures and layouts, but to me, the heart of a magazine is long-form content such as in-depth interviews, investigative stories, instructional articles, industry analyses, philosophical musings and personal reflection.

Thanks to the Internet, all these long-form content have broken free of the constraints of print: namely the cost of production, paper and distribution. AND the need to hold a magazine with two hands.

For example, I subscribe to Spotify podcasts that help me learn more and think deeper, such as:.

10 Lessons Learned

Ask Pastor John

Chasing Life by CNN

Discover Daily by Perplexity

Dwarkesh Podcast

Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People

Lex Fridman Podcast

No Stupid Questions by Freakonomics Radio

The Ezra Klein Show

The Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish

The Morgan Housel Podcast

The Prof G Pod by Scott Galloway

The Tim Ferriss Show

Think Fast, Talk Smart

Timothy Keller Sermons

Where do I get the time to listen to all of them? I do so when I do my 40 min jogs (three times a week), when I am driving or taking public transport, or when I’m doing housework (2 hours every weekend).

What is amazing about these podcasts is that many of the hosts aren’t journalists. They range from pastors to scientists to business leaders. Yet, they ask sharp and thoughtful questions to their interviewees, just like any good journalist would.

Some of these podcasts can go on for hours, but I don’t drop off because I’m learning so much. An in-depth text article usually requires hours of interviewing, and these podcasts show you what it’s like when the interviews are not edited heavily to fit a page.

Many of the podcasts also embed sponsored messages, so media advertising is alive and well, folks. It’s just not in the form that traditional media companies are used to.

On YouTube, I subscribe to wide-ranging content like: Bob and Brad (health tips for aging people) Jimmy Fallon (talk show), Marques Brownlee (tech reviews), CNA Insider (investigative stories), Gamers Nexus (PC geek stuff), Stephen Travers Art (drawing), Desiring God (Christianity), Liron Yanconsky (watercolor painting), OGS (amazing SG stories), Olivio Sarikas (Gen AI imaging), Sabine Hossenfelder (a funny and smart German lady) and PJ Morton (an incredible musician).

I don’t always watch the YouTube videos, I also listen to them during my jogs and commute.

Then we have newsletters where I subscribe to a wide variety. LinkedIn has been a great place to discover newsletters on technology, leadership and self-development. I also subscribe to those of authors like Shane Parriss (Clear Thinking), Scott Young (Ultralearning), Blender Guru Andrew Price, and Ray Dalio (Principles).

Finally, ebooks.

Let me show you what I’ve currently borrowed from the Singapore National Library’s online collection (powered by Overdrive):

There’s The Creative Act (Rick Rubin), Range (David Epstein), Co-Intelligence (Ethan Mollick), a book on learning Tai Chi, Drive (Daniel Pink), Writing for Busy Readers (Todd Rogers), and also Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0 (Jim Collins).

Obviously, I can’t possibly finish all the books within the 21-day loan period. But I read selected chapters during meal times or work breaks… when I remember to. If the loan expires, I just borrow them again. I can also borrow audiobooks which I will listen to… you guessed it, during my jogs.

So, the sheer accessibility of ebooks and audiobooks have allowed me to consume them piecemeal and at my own time, just like a print magazine. The same goes for podcasts, newsletters and YouTube videos.

There is more great long-form media content being created than ever before, it’s just that you probably haven’t been thinking of these platforms as “the media”.

Magazines were a great medium for the 20th century.

The new “magazines” are even better.

By the way, after writing 11 issues, I’m still undecided about the ideal length of this newsletter. Should the content be short-form or long-form? Please let me know your preference in the comments, thanks!

Finally, I’ve compiled a whole bunch of wise sayings on my website, ThinkTan. These were collected over ten years using Google Keep, and I continue to add to them.

Latest LinkedIn Posts

Experiment: Are you sure this cat is not AI-generated?

Why I tell people I could be dead tomorrow

I removed 1000 people from my LinkedIn connections

A pigeon took a crap on my bald head

Part 2 of my thoughts on flexi work

The SG flexi-work debate: For over 25 years, most of my jobs have allowed me to work wherever and whenever I wanted. Sounds like what many people are clamouring for today, BUT please hold your horses. My life of flexi-work has never been focused on cutting down commuting time and working in the comfort of my home, but being able to deliver results at all costs and at all times. Read more.

Returning to my spiritual home of fitness

A note from SingHealth Communications about my Gen AI talk

Baidu’s Image Search now has Gen AI (but it’s not very good)

Ok, thanks for enduring the long read this week! Till the next newsletter, God bless you!