For the love of God, just give me a list!

2blowhards has enabled its promised best of feature, which is a great way to find hidden gems. Right away, I found an article I must have missed last year, Michael’s diatribe about the magazine table of contents, where he notes that magazine t of cs have become glitzy design showcases instead of convenient content indexes.

It’s hard to disagree with him, and indeed I’ve noticed the same thing. Michael blames technology, specifically Quark and Photoshop, which make it easy for designers to mess up a lot of good things. I tend to think the problem is a little more insidious than that. Michael and some of his commenters touch on the idea that advertising is at its root: extending the t of c to two or three pages certainly allows the editors to toss in more ads. Just finding the t of c these days can be a major expedition: I count 8 pages of ads in front of the contents in this month’s Gourmet, with a two-page ad spread separating the two pages of contents.

My pet peeve with magazine contents is the difficulty locating the articles featured on the front of the mag. Why is it, if the article’s important enough to be featured on the cover, that its contents listing is always in tiny print on the bottom-right corner of the third contents page?

Could it be that the magazine’s editors want to confuse their readers? Do they want us to turn to the contents section and be so dazzled by their graphics prowess that we forget entirely what it was that we were looking for in the first place? I suspect that’s exactly their intention, but I wonder how often it works. Usually I’m persistent enough to find the listing for the article I’m looking for, and then move on to the next challenge: finding the article itself. Not only do most pages not include page numbers, but many magazines insert “special advertising sections” which have their own, independent numbering system. So there might be 16 pages of ads between page 58 and page 59.

If I’m lucky enough to find the article, often I must again wade through pages of ads to read it, only to see that it’s “continued on page 127.” Time for yet another trip through the magazine’s arcane numbering “system.”

To read just one article, my eyeballs probably scanned more than 20 pages of ads. It’s as if the magazine editors did everything in their power to make it difficult for me to find the article I wanted to read. Perplexingly, there is one thing in the magazine that is very easy to find: the individual ads, which are conveniently indexed in an easy-to-read, easy-to-find format at the back of the magazine.

I suppose none of this should be particularly surprising: at their core, magazines are simply devices for delivering advertising to a willing, targeted market. Sometimes I think their true goal is to get me to go on an insert-shredding rampage: there’s nothing I hate more than those business reply cards peppered ever more densely through the magazine. I’ll often spend five minutes or more next to the trash can just preparing the magazine for reading by ripping out every in confounded piece of card stock I can get my mitts on.

And I pay for this?

Ironically, the basis for this rant was found using a convenient, well organized search feature: a simple list. Imagine the power magazines would have over us if they could just realize how helpful a clean, easy to read, sequenced array of topics can be.

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One Response to For the love of God, just give me a list!

  1. Anne says:

    The panopticist has some very funny Quark-produced parody covers (Us Weekly as if it’s Harper’s is a recent fave). Your frustration is the advertiser’s dream, I think, but I don’t know why (perhaps a question for the psych site…? frustration and confusion as a consumerist goal…?). As a long-time fan of women’s magazines and such, I’ve grown inured to it: I don’t read glossy magazines according to the ToC because it’s so worthless. The more “serious” or text-based the magazine (starting, say, with the New Yorker, the more likely I am anyway to be turning to it for something specific.

    Have fun skiing!

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