Ian McMillan: why the printed word isn’t dead

Ian McMillan
Ian McMillan
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I reckon that after all the talk about newspapers, magazines and books being in long-term decline I’m coming across more articles and hearing more things on the radio and, yes, reading more blog posts and tweets, that tell me that print is actually making a comeback, that sales of tablets and e-readers have hit a plateau and may even fall back in 2016.

All this is good news for people like me who like to hold newspapers in their hands, who like to feel the weight of a book on their knee as they read it, and who like to stuff their briefcase with magazines to read on the train.

A magazine makes your life seem glamorous, makes you feel that you’re one of what they call round here t’beautiful people.

Ah, magazines! I love books and newspapers but I have to say that I think the highest example of the printer’s art is the magazine, like the one you’re holding now (unless you’re reading it online, of course, which is fine). A magazine makes your life seem glamorous, makes you feel that you’re one of what they call round here t’beautiful people.

For a while when I was a bit younger I subscribed to more magazines than was healthy for my letterbox or my bank balance, reflecting my musical and cultural tastes: Poetry Review, The Paris Review, The New Statesman, Jazzwise, The Wire and Folk Roots. In the end, it was impossible to keep up with them all and they’d pile up, unread, in piles that every now and then tottered and fell to the ground in the spare bedroom that was more like a magazine museum.

I abandoned most of my subscriptions, although I still buy most of them as individual copies, which probably costs more, but the magazine I loved the most, and to which I still subscribe, was and is The New Yorker.

I first bought The New Yorker at Kennedy Airport in 1977 on my way back from a transcontinental bus trip with my mates Dave and Bob; I was seduced by the cover, and the font, and the adverts, and the listings for places I’d never visit; for years afterwards I’d buy a copy at larger stations like King’s Cross and then I succumbed and subscribed. There are cartoons in each issue that are probably more sophisticated than funny; there are long pieces about arcane aspects of American politics; there are short articles about things that are happening around New York, and there’s a short story that’s often set in the hinterland of small-town America, a kind of streetscape that I find almost mystically and viscerally exciting.

I was once on a train reading that week’s issue with a kind of smug self-satisfaction because I thought it made me seem intellectual; as I got up to get off I noticed a bloke sitting at the far end of the carriage reading the same copy. “Great to meet a fellow New Yorker reader!” I said, rather too loudly. “I found it on the seat,” he said. “It’s rubbish.”

No, it isn’t. And magazines never are. I think I’ll subscribe to a few as a treat for these cold January days!