Saturday 16 December 2017

Michael O'Doherty: Hope for the day job

Print's under pressure but people still want to stay in touch, says Michael O'Doherty

It seems particularly selfish, these days, to be multi-talented. With most people grateful just to have one job, I can understand the ire directed towards those who double-job, supplementing their main income with an unrelated sideline. But it's hard not to admire people who have more than one talent. On a cruise ship last week, I met a member of the on-board dancing troupe, who's also a qualified vet, and takes three months off from her practice every year just to indulge her passion for dancing. The resident artist, who does portraits and landscapes all round the world, supplements his income as a sought-after session musician back home in Australia. My friend Eamon Keane, as I've mentioned before, is a highly skilled radio broadcaster with Newstalk, but also an infuriatingly talented musician who has just released a solo album of his own compositions.

Some of this double-jobbing, however, is borne, not so much out of unbridled talent, but out of necessity. My bread-and-butter job of magazine publishing, you see, has taken a bit of a battering. Sales of just about every Irish magazine have fallen in the past 12 months which, along with a sharp drop in advertising revenue, has meant that the entire industry is suffering. Which is why you find people like me, a magazine publisher, and Melanie Morris, editor of Image, inflicting our thoughts on you in this very newspaper, helping as it does to keep the names of our magazines out there.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I was faced with the prospect of speaking at a debate. It's something I loved doing in school, but I hadn't done it in the intervening 25 years. I was coaxed out of retirement, however, by the motion that was put before me: "Magazines are dead, long live the internet." It's a favourite topic amongst the newly internet-literate generation -- forecasting the imminent demise of the printed product, as those expensive, cumbersome, bound-together stacks of paper are just so 20th century. And the debate came just as our falling sales figures were released, as if to rub salt into the wound.

But, as I pointed out from the pulpit, there's a glimmer of light on the horizon. One of only three magazines to increase sales was my very own KISS. And it's noteworthy because it's the only one aimed at Irish teenage girls, dipping their toes for the first time into the magazine market. The figures prove that the very generation that is supposed to be forsaking printed material in favour of the internet is actually doing the opposite.

I'll tell you why this is. It's about texture. Sure, you can read a book on a Kindle, and yes, you can browse through a magazine's pages on your computer, but you can't feel it. The tactile element of magazines is something we've been taking for granted for so long, we've forgotten how important it is. Facebook, Bebo and online publications may keep you in touch, but they can't touch you.

The internet may live long, but magazines are not dead. They're just feeling a little poorly and could do with your support. And if you're tired of reading myself and Melanie's dubious opinions on random subjects, there's a simple way to send us back to our day jobs. Start buying our magazines again.

Michael O'Doherty is the publisher of the VIP magazine group

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