February 14, 2013

The Future of Gardening Magazines

Garden Design magazine closes it's doors.


Last Thursday, Bonnier Corp. announced to the staff of Garden Design Magazine, that it will be folding after the April issue. The announcement included this statement :

"The economic climate, compounded by the significant industry transition to digital, have limited the growth in advertising needed to make this brand viable for our future," the company said, in a statement.

I can't say that I am surprised, for as a gardener and as a visual designer, I have watched the magazine grow more desperate, more diluted, with more generalized content over the past few years, as it has obviously struggled with an ever changing market.  I'm not trying to be negative, it's just the truth - a similar path is being traveled by other gardening magazines, and I am sure that most anyone in the publishing industry will agree - the status of sustainable gardening publications is simply shaky. 

AS OTHER GARDENING MAGAZINES FAIL, SPECIALIZED MAGAZINES AND JOURNALS CONTINUE
TO SELL TO A MORE FOCUSED AUDIENCE. THIS INCLUDES THE ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY'S
THE PLANTSMAN, WORTH A SHELF IN ANY GARDENERS LIBRARY.



Advertising sells magazines, in fact, I once heard it said that magazines are really just advertising machines, and that more than two thirds of a commercial magazine must become paid advertising for the magazine to be profitable. This alone makes me concerned about the remaining gardening magazines ( i.e. Horticulture, and Fine Gardening - both, rather thin on ad pages).

THE NEWLY REDESIGNED PACIFIC HORTICULTURE, HAS REINVENTED WHAT A GARDENING MAGAZINE
CAN OFFER. INTERESTING PLANT-RELATED ARTICLES AND FLAWLESS DESIGN.

Then there is content. As much as it pains me to admit it - it's hard for me to justify $4.99 for 4 or 5 short articles with little depth, when I can browse for ever on-line. I guess I am starting to get used to it, but I guess I expect more and more and more as far as content goes, and when I do finally pick up a magazine, if feels a bit like dead content.


ONE OF THE BEST FROM THE SPECIALIST SOCIETY KNOWN AS THE ALPINE GARDEN SOCIETY, FROM THE UK, IS THEIER QUARTERLY 4 COLOR JOURNAL THE ALPINE GARDENER. THE TRUTH IS, THIS
JOURNAL COVERS SUBJECT FAR WIDER THAN ALPINE PLANTS, INCLUDING WOODLAND,
BULBS AND CONTAINER PLANTS. JUST CHECK OUT THESE TWO CONTENT PAGES...






The future may lie in specialized magazines and particularly journals, especially those from plant societies. Funny - just as plant societies beginning to fret about their own future, maybe their content-rich journals will be saved, as gardeners become more informed and demand more authentic content, not just shallow, short sound bytes with loads of advertising. I look at how Pacific Horticulture has changed, as well as the North American Rock Garden Society quarterly, the British Alpine Plant Society journal, or the Scottish Rock Garden Society publications. I know, you may think that these are rock gardening magazines, but they are much more - how to propagate bulbs, how to raise lady slipper orchids - all sorts of ways to start rare perennial seeds and woodland plants.






THE BOTANIC GARDEN AT KEW, PUBLISHES THIS WONDERFUL MAGAZINE, WHICH IS MORE
MASS MARKET IN STYLE AND YET COVERS INTERESTING SUBJECTS.
Again, my seven best gardening magazines are:

Pacific Horticulture
The Plantsman
Kew Magazine
Gardens Illustrated
The Alpine Gardener
The Rock Garden Quarterly
The Rock Gardener ( Scottish Rock Garden Club)













The Scottish Rock Garden Club publishes a terrific journal twice a year, it alone is worth the membership fee, and it
covers all sorts of topics far beyond alpines. These are some of the finest journals one can get delivered in the mail.


You may notice that there are three rock garden magazines here, but I challenge you to examine each site and study the articles - rock gardeners are generally the most accomplished gardeners, and these magazines offer much more than mere rock plants. Images stories and photos on new plants being introduced from the Himalaya, from Chile, how to raise bulbs from seed - these journals are full of rich photography and real, useful content that you can actually learn something from. If you want inspiration, join Pinterest. Ideas a a dime a dozen, but knowing more about plants is priceless.

The North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) offers this great journal which comes with membership.
It offers real content, written by knowledgeable gardeners, plant explorers and covers subjects rarely found in any other gardening magazine. I think of it as the National Geographic of gardening magazines.
I encourage each of you to consider trying a membership in a plant society, if only to get their journals in the mail. Of course, membership offers much, much more, often seed exchanges and meetings with speakers ( like going to college again).Either way,  it's fun!

People who know, understand the value of these premium publications - be they digital, or on paper. I rate them highly because my test is my throw-away test. If I can throw away the magazine, it's not worth the paper it's printed on. If I need to save them forever, then they are worth it. If I read them again and again and again, always learning more, and if they have lots of photos and interesting plants, even better.. These journals all deliver that - in loads.

9 comments :

  1. Thank you for a very thoughtful article. I've been worried about the future of this line of magazine, but you are so very right about content. Some publishers just don't seem to get it. . and, the times, they are a changing! I'll have to investigate some of the other magazines you mention, which I am not familiar with, as well as the plant society journals.

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  2. Anonymous3:31 PM

    I no longer subscribe to gardening mags. I used to receive Garden Design, Horticulture and Fine Gardening. After my initial 10 minutes of enjoying pretty pictures, I simply found almost nothing of value for gardening in my backyard. Garden Design promotes ungodly expensive garden furnishings, and Fine Gardening promotes the latest hybrids you can get at Mahoney's. I've given up on the mags, and find myself taking courses at local horticultural organizations (Mass Hort, NWFS), specialty garden centers (Snug Harbors, Blanchette's) and going on local garden tours. And reading your blog, of course! The mags are bland, syrupy and stale. Were they always that way?

    Mary Beth

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  3. hopflower6:35 PM

    So true. I have subscribed to countless plant mags over the years and up until last year to both Fine Gardening and Horticulture, but both seem to be lacking in quality articles and anything new. In fact, I was not impressed with either the last year, and they seem to be getting thinner and thinner. I only subscribe to one magazine now; and I am watching that one. We shall see. It is a shame; I used to enjoy curling up with my print magazine and perusing the articles with a cup of tea.

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  4. I wonder what the future is for magazines? I too like to curl up with a cup of tea, and a tablet just doesn't do it for me, at least not yet, but it's coming close - I mean, one problem I have with magazines is the limited content, as I believe we are now trained to expect more and more content - if not endless content in something like a Google search. We now quickly tire of three page articles and 7 images, even if they are of something interesting. Maybe articles will need to offer more? Thicker magazines with longer articles, many more photos and less advertising. Surely, not a sustainable model, but that's what I want. Oh yeah, a great design and awesome paper quality......well, I guess that would be a book, right? Look, if new cookbooks can do this, then so can gardening pubs. I would gladly pay 18.99 for a self published perfectly designed and content rich thick magazine rather than a cheap, thin magazine with crappy generic articles and useless ad's.

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  5. Hi, here in Australia, one of the longest running magazines (Burke's Backyard) is printing its last issue in March. The reason for closing it down is speculated but the publication was smothered in advertising and did cover a wide range of topics. Australia's top selling magazine (Gardening Australia) just posted a decline in circulation of minus 14.3%, continuing its spiral downwards along with other gardening magazines here. In contrast, the specialised subTropical Gardening magazine (www.stgmagazine.com.au) has been growing due to its focused target market, in-depth articles, low advertising and reputation of the horticultural writers, many of the best in Australia. I do agree that magazines have a tough time with sourcing paid advertising these days and the garden businesses appear reluctant to support focused magazines such as this subTropical Gardening. Thank goodness quality content trumps!

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  6. As it happens I just finished going through parts of 'The Rock Garden' and I couldn't agree more with your article. I was late coming to some of the rock gardening publications and now I'm thoroughly hooked. The pictures are wonderful and the stories generally provide captivating backgrounds for some of the plants we all want to grow. As an aside the writeup you did for the PBS journal last year on 'South African Bulbs under Glass' was very much on target for what I would like to do with my new greenhouse. And now I note that I only get three of your seven preferred publications so I've got some investigating to do...

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  7. Thanks John. You know, I never was able to see that article I did for the Pacific Bulb Society as I had let my membership expire, but it's nice to hear that you liked it. Your new greenhouse sounds terrific, I have to admit that mine was one of the best things that I ever invested in. Enjoy!

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  8. Hi Matt,
    I’m happy to share one of my favorites, The American Gardener magazine that comes with membership in American Horticultural Society. Per their website: A 64-page, four-color magazine, The American Gardener goes out bimonthly to the more than 25,000 members of the American Horticultural Society. Our readers are mainly experienced amateur gardeners; about 20 percent are horticultural professionals. Articles are intended to bring this knowledgeable group new information, ranging from the latest scientific findings that affect plants, to the history of gardening and gardens in America. We introduce readers to unusual plants, personalities, and issues that will enrich what we assume is already a passionate commitment to gardening. Check out their site at www.ahs.org. I especially enjoy staying current on the big picture with what’s happening nationally, and the “Regional Happenings” section (also updated on website) where you find almost everything going on everywhere with every plant society and botanical garden.
    Thank you for championing the merits of plant societies. As a member of the American Conifer Society, I invite you and your readers to check out our Conifer Quarterly publication. There you will indeed find in-depth articles on a host of more technical topics such as propagation, grafting, plant-hunting, breeding, nomenclature, provenance, who’s growing what and more. Website here: http://www.conifersociety.org/ or check out northeast region on FB https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/266133308767/?fref=ts

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  9. Lynne, thanks for reminding me about the American Horticultural Society. I have always wanted to join, but somehow always put it off. It will be on my to-do list this week. Thanks for sharing!

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