If you told me a few years ago that in 2020 I would be subscribing to physical magazines again, I would have called you crazy. After all, by 2015 I had already ridded myself of my outrageous cable bill and went exclusively to streaming. When Apple released its News+ service, I was one of the first people to give it a try (more on that later).
Though I was always reluctant to succumb to ereading books, with other digital services I have typically been eager to try out the next new thing. Why, then, as we near 2021, am I resorting back to physical magazine subscriptions? That’s a puzzling move for a guy who always has a screen readily available.
But then that’s just it. I spend nearly my entire day in front of a screen. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself being sucked into my phone and iPad. As I absorbed as much information as I could from every news source, I relayed it to my wife. “The New York Times is now reporting…” I would start to say, and she finally had to tell me to log off.
Instead, she and I — like so many others — turned to streaming. We watched Netflix — as in, I think we watched all of Netflix — and Hulu and HBO. I was getting very little writing done, and I was doing almost no reading. The world was a very uncertain and unsettling place.
By the end of April, I had gotten back into the rhythm of writing, but I still wasn’t doing nearly enough reading. In May, when we (almost literally) ran out of shows to watch, we clicked off the TV. It was time to read.
My initial inclination was to turn to books, which I did. I have always kept a book on my bedside table. I reread a couple classics. I ordered some new books that had been lingering on my list for a while. But everywhere I looked, I was still surrounded by digital writing that was, well, not very good — and that was the majority of what I was consuming.
I had an urge to learn. I wanted to become a better writer. I wanted to become a better entrepreneur. I wanted to be more knowledgable about the country and the world, especially as we headed into election season. The first place I turned was Apple News+, knowing I could get digital access to some of the best magazines — everything from The New Yorker to Sports Illustrated to Psychology Today. But before I pulled the trigger on the $9.99/month price tag, I shopped around a little — and I’m glad I did.
I started to find physical magazine deals. Some were introductory deals directly through the magazine’s website, and many were through Amazon’s Magazine Subscription program. The best part of this program is each day or week or month, there is a new set of magazines that go on sale. It’s a great way to dip your toes in the water and see which subscriptions you like best (and for the ones you do not enjoy, turn the auto-renewal off with the click of a button).
So I began subscribing, knowing that I did not want to surpass the price of Apple News+. For my writing and literary interests, I subscribed to Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest. For my entrepreneurial mind, I added Entrepreneur, Inc and Wired. For current events and analytical articles, I threw in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Time. The number of issues and the length of the subscriptions varies, but on a monthly basis I am paying about what I would have paid for Apple News+. (If you catch them at the right time, many of these magazines will go on sale for $5 subscriptions.)
I’m not naive to the fact that many of these subscriptions will be far more expensive to renew than they are now, and I will likely have to cut out a few in the future. But so far, this experiment of subscribing to physical magazines again has been going very well. And here’s why.
Why I’m Subscribing to Physical Magazines Again
When I finally made the decision to start subscribing to physical magazines again, it came down to four main reasons or benefits.
1. Read More
I have always found that reading stimulates my curiosity more than any other medium. Podcasts and TV shows have their moments, but reading does it for me almost every time. My hope by subscribing to some new magazines was that my curiosity would be piqued and I would find myself reaching for the issues every spare moment I had.
I wasn’t wrong. I have enough of them now that I can keep some in my office, some in the living room and some in the bedroom. Rather than flipping on the TV or checking my phone, I am picking up a magazine and diving into a new article. And because I subscribed to such an assortment of magazines, I am able to read a little bit of everything, so that one topic never loses my interest.
2. Less Screen Time
It’s no secret that the amount of time we are spending in front of a screen is impacting our mental and physical health. When Apple released its “Screen Time” feature in 2018, it was a wake-up call. Since then, I have tried to make a conscious effort to limit the amount of time I stare at screens. But sometimes its unavoidable. So I did things like changing the backlight settings on my devices to make them easier on my eyes. However, there is no replacement for removing the screen altogether.
That was a huge part of my decision to subscribe to physical magazines instead of Apple News+. If, after spending all day on my computer and phone, I wanted to sit down in the living room and read on my iPad, that would have been an easy decision. But so far I have found it extremely fulfilling to step away from the screens and rest my eyes.
3. Support Better Writing
There is a trap that any writer on a digital platform can fall into. When the content is digital, there always seems to be this arbitrary and hurried deadline, as if knowing you can go back and edit your work at any moment makes it okay to prematurely publish. I have certainly fallen into it. With everything I write on this site and others, I do my best to craft quality content, but I have looked back more than a time or two and criticized myself for what was clearly rushed work.
But that is what I find all over the internet — rushed work. Or perhaps lazy work. Probably both. Everyone wants to be the first source to break the news or have a specific opinion. The content is also generally crafted toward gaining more clicks. With physical magazines, I have found a respite from that type of content.
The articles are typically longer and much more analytical. Most are engaging and intelligent, while making it clear that incredible thought and energy and time have gone into the writing process. That is the type of writing that I want to read, and that is the type of writing I want to support and keep alive.
4. Slow Life Down
While the pandemic, to a disastrous degree, slowed down the world, I still found myself being wound up by the visual stimulants that I surrounded myself with — from computer screens to iPads to phones to TVs. In the late evenings after my daughter goes to bed, there is usually this calm period where my wife and I turn on a few floor lamps and read in the living room. It’s dark outside and the lamps give us enough light to read but also keep the room soft enough to relax. Sometimes we will have quiet music playing in the background, but often it is just silent. That’s when I can read for pleasure. I can read to learn. I can read to slow down the crazy world we live in.
I suppose this scene could just as easily be cultivated with paperbacks instead of magazines, but the truth is that we rarely did this before I started subscribing to magazines. Other than in bed, I never made reading a priority. But once I had magazines on the table, I needed to carve out some additional reading time.
So now here I am with a pile of magazines on my desk. Actually, it’s three piles — one of issues I have read and will discard, one of issues I have read and want to either read again or pass on to someone else in my life, and the other of those I still need to read. Yes, physical magazines, the things people used to read in waiting rooms and on the John. Those are sitting beside me right now as I write this. And guess what? I am going to read every single one.