Friday, March 24, 2006

Letting magazine subscriptions lapse

This week I got my final issue of U.S. News & World Report. I’ve been a faithful subscriber for twenty-two years, since 1984, when my sixth-grade class used the weekly news magazine for current events and news quizzes. After more than two decades and a thousand issues of coverage of national politics, international disasters, college rankings and tech guides, I finally decided to let my subscription lapse, as an effort to simplify my life.

I’ve always been a fairly heavy consumer of news media and periodicals. In my grad school program for communications, one of our assigned texts was The New York Times, which we were required to subscribe to and read daily for a semester. I also read the Chicago Tribune simultaneously to compare coverage. A few years later, as a print publicist, I worked with book review editors at various magazines, and so I was constantly reading dozens of magazines every week, from Christianity Today and Books & Culture to World, Discipleship Journal, Commonweal, First Things and Christian Century. In recent years we’ve had (mostly free) subscriptions to an eclectic range of magazines including Wired and Fast Company, the Utne Reader and Sierra magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Men’s Journal and Budget Living. This is on top of keeping up with publishing trade journals at work like Publishers Weekly and Copy Editor.

As many folks have observed, you can tell a lot about somebody by what magazines are on the coffee table. Each of these magazines says something about my sense of self and identity—who I think I am, who I aspire to be. Some reflect our stage of life; we started getting Parents and Working Mother once we had kids. When I got some free subscriptions, I chose Saveur and Outdoor Photographer not because I have any real skill as a cook or photographer, but they were areas that I thought it might be interesting to learn more about, even if I never actually gained any culinary or photographic expertise. My wife has been far more consistent in her magazine readership; her only subscription is to Worship Leader, which reflects that she has a far more singular and clear sense of her identity than I do, with my scattershot variety of nominal interests.

I’ve always had dozens of magazines circulate through my life in any given month, but recently I’ve been learning to let subscriptions lapse. After all, this is a lot of time spent reading magazines that could be used doing other things, and too many of these magazines appeal to particular consumerist identities. So cutting out magazines is a way of reducing exposure to unnecessary advertising messages, as well as recentering myself away from external false selves. For media-immersive junkies like me, fasting from periodicals is a healthy spiritual discipline to practice.

But even as I say this, Chicago Public Radio is offering free subscriptions to Newsweek for their pledge drive, and now that I don’t get U.S. News anymore, I’m really tempted . . .


Nate said...

"So many nominal interests." But you work in publishing, though. If anybody gets to read a ton of magazines, shouldn't it be you?

I'm down to just Wired right now, mostly for financial reasons, and time reasons (I've got a back log of lit journal issues still to get through, and library books, too).

If you're feeling conflicted about magazines, how do you go about deciding about blogs? I'd found myself transfixed by way too many a few months ago, but now yours is the first I've read in a good month or so.

Al Hsu said...

Well, I'm conflicted about blogs, too - I should probably should be a lot more disciplined about how much time I spend in the blogosphere, clicking from link to link, wandering over to this blog and that . . . it never ends. Maybe I'll max out sometime later and cut back on blogs the way I cut back on magazines. But I'm still enjoying this world so far. And I'm glad you found my blog!