Books and Culture, the renowned journal of thought that served as a bridge between evangelical intellectuals and the wider academy, will cease production this year.
The magazine had faced challenges before. In 2013, readers rallied to save it from immediate demise. This year, however, the loyalty and passion of readers couldn’t overcome the inherent challenges of putting out this quality of work in a digital age.
Printing in a Digital Age
Much of the online lament over Books and Culture has focused on the importance of magazines like this, the difficulty in finding a financially viable model, and of course, the decline of the reading public in general. All of these issues are relevant today.
Still, it is striking to me that, online at least, I’ve heard more about the discontinuing of Books and Culture in the past few days than I heard about its features in the past few years. Apparently, this was a beloved magazine that people rarely talked about. (I was a subscriber several years ago, but I let my renewal lapse at a time when I diversified my magazine reading overall.)
I do wonder, though: will other magazines go the same way? Is the financial model unstable for a variety of magazines? Should we assume that others may fall by the wayside? Is Christianity Today next? What about First Things? Will The New Yorker ever be digital-only?
Should We Read Magazines?
I’m a millennial who loves magazines. My generation isn’t known for thoughtful reading of books, much less magazines, and especially in print. Still, I consider my magazine subscriptions to be indispensable for understanding the times.
Not everyone is convinced of the goodness of magazines. In 1959, in a letter to a schoolchild asking for advice on writing, C. S. Lewis said,
“Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.”
I suspect his disdain for magazines was due to lower standards of writing and the lack of sustained intellectual attention they require, as opposed to the concentration necessary for a book.
But nowadays, one might update his advice to say, “Read all the good magazines you can, and avoid nearly all blogs.” If books are the mountaintop of thoughtful writing (and even that is debatable in a self-publishing age), perhaps print magazines are a step or two down, but still several stairs higher than the “quick take” via blogs and articles—“content” (oh, I hate that word!) we scan for headlines and points, but rarely give extended attention to.
So, I’m inclined to say, “read magazines.” But I hesitate to say, “Avoid nearly all blogs,” primarily because I don’t want to steer you away from my own!
Still, if you have the choice between reading a blog or a magazine or book, let me encourage you to lean heavier on books and print magazines rather than blogs. Not because blogs are insufficient, but because an educated person must engage in the regular habit of mentally stretching his mind. That stretching is more likely to take place by reading essays, book reviews, and articles. Yes, you find some of these online, but more often, the best come in print forms. Besides, reading in print is a different experience than reading online, as study after study shows.
3 Things You Can Do to Save the Magazine
So, here’s hoping that magazines will still come in print. And here’s how you can do your part to see that they do.
Don’t tell me you can’t afford a few good magazines. A yearlong subscription to Christianity Today costs less than a meal with my family at Chick-Fil-A. The value is stunning.
But why subscribe to World in print if I can read the magazine free online? Why not just benefit from the articles I can find at First Things even if I don’t get everything they have behind the pay wall?
Because good writing deserves your support. If you benefit from an online site, then, by all means, subscribe to the magazine to support their work and strengthen your own reading habits. If you benefit from writers online for free, for goodness’ sake, buy their books when they release. Support the work you want to see more of.
2. Make time.
Will we take the time for more substantive reading than whatever shows up in our Facebook feeds, or on our favorite blogs, or in an article a friend may send us? An essay in Comment demands a level of attention you are unlikely to give to an article you read here on my blog or something you find in your social media timeline. That’s not to say other forms of online writing are bad or unhelpful (please, keep reading!). But if you are going to stretch yourself, you’re going to need to give yourself time for exercise.
3. Connect magazines to your other reading.
To those who say, “I’d rather read books than magazines!” I say, “More power to you!” But if you want to get the gist and argumentation of many a good book without reading them all cover to cover, you should find a few magazines that interview important authors and review noteworthy books. Magazines can multiply your knowledge of books, and help you know how to focus your other reading.
Renew Those Subscriptions
Books and Culture may be going away, but that doesn’t have to be the case for other thoughtful publications. So, here’s to hoping that print magazines will continue to have a long life, and that readers will continue to enhance their own lives by them!