Eye Candy (or is digital disruption driving a return to quality print?)

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On a recent candlelit tour of the Fashioning Winter exhibition at Somerset House there was much interest in the Winter Mode display that shows an array of early twentieth century fashion magazines. These titles (including Gazette du Bon Ton, Journal des Dames et des Modes and Femina) were something of a luxury purchase in their own right. The magazines built exclusivity relationships with leading couturiers and provided women with advice on the latest styles emanating from those houses. Illustration came from original artwork commissioned from artists such as Iribe and Thayaht. With necessarily limited print runs and with this level of artistry devoted to each issue, these magazines were a very different form of journalism than either contemporary newspapers or today’s mass-produced media.

Over recent years technology has disrupted traditional forms of media. Many newspapers and magazines have struggled to find new business models but far from seeing the demise of the printed magazine, there seems to be an evolution under way in which commercial mass produced offerings slide down market, and new, more highly produced and specified magazines capture the top of the market.

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Magazines like CR, Self Service and Kinfolk now seem to be returning us to the style of these early twentieth century titles. Bound and produced on high quality paper, with original artwork and journalism, often on a common theme throughout, they are more akin to a coffee-table tome. Consequently readers are more likely to keep and collect issues – browsing Ebay for these titles reveals some eye-watering prices for back numbers.

Rather than killing the print industry, perhaps this particular technological disruption is helping to remind us of the value of insightful and beautifully-produced media to be collected and shared.

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