The Dilemma of the Modern Coffee Table

The pile of magazines on the coffee table needed straightening. It was cleaning day.

As I squared up the edges of the three piles, I remembered reading that when magazines (periodicals) were becoming popular in the 1800s, wealthy people placed them neatly on their coffee tables so guests would think they were sophisticated. It didn’t matter if anyone read them. Guess I’m sophisticated, then.

I realized, however, that I had done this routine too many times to count and almost all of the magazines were quite old. They were still there because I planned to read specific articles in them someday. Some were so old that I no longer had subscriptions to them.

It wasn’t like the barbershop that has a pile of old Car and Driver or Hot Rod magazines in a rack. Those are almost timeless since they remind customers of unfulfilled dreams of cars they have coveted for decades. And you don’t need to read much in them. The photos are enough to bring out a smile before you’re called for your haircut.

There was a time when both Catherine and I received numerous magazines. We both like to read and, I especially, appreciate short articles that I can finish in one sitting. Books just take too long. It’s probably my journalism background. Just the facts, ma’am.

Catherine has her own pile on a side table next to her lounge chair. That pile is, however, comprised of more catalogs than magazines. Mostly clothes catalogs, I think. If I do anything more than straighten the pile, I’ll hear about it.

The only printed magazines we have subscriptions for anymore are Consumer Reports (me) and, for Catherine, Majesty Magazine and Fine Cooking. I’ve had a Consumer Reports subscription for years. My dad used to get it. Catherine has always been fascinated by British royalty and cooking. We do receive AARP and AAA magazines, but they seem to have more ads than useful content.

Two others I subscribe to are now online only – Popular Science and Mac User. And those are probably not going to be renewed since it’s just not the same reading a magazine on a tablet. I’m still trying to get used to reading newspapers online.

Until it folded in 2018, I was actually still receiving Mad Magazine. As a kid I used to occasionally buy it at a store when I could afford it. Then, when my kids were at the age they might appreciate its sarcasm, I bought a subscription for them. They were not interested. Times had changed, I guess, and it saddened me. In an effort to help save the failing magazine, I subscribed for even longer. I think it expires in 2025. Hey, I tried.

Catherine received Seventeen Magazine through college. That’s where she found one of my favorite recipes – bacon and egg spaghetti, an Americanized carbonara. She subscribed to Seventeen for daughter Clara, but that was a lost cause.

Something like this also happened with Newsweek. We had a long subscription, purchased as one of those “best deals.” I still have a copy of the last printed edition ever, except that it wasn’t. They went online-only for awhile and then started a print version again. In all the confusion, I gave up and never read another issue, printed or online.

Other magazines I used to subscribe to include Boy’s Life, Time Magazine, National Geographic and Popular Photography. I’m sure there were more, especially when we used to sell subscriptions as a fundraiser for some school or church cause. Even my folks finally said no to more subscriptions. You don’t see kids selling them anymore.

Life Magazine was one we never bought. But you were cool if you did. The photos were awesome. So were the photos in National Geographic, which is still published. How many of you saved magazines like these? They were really heavy and Life Magazine had a large format until they shrunk it to save costs. Despite valiant efforts to save it through multiple iterations, it also folded. Mail carriers rejoiced everywhere.

So what’s going on with the magazine world? Why did so many of them fail? Well, there are still a lot of them out there. Just look at the magazine rack at a grocery store, especially the impulse rack at the checkout. But it appears that the next generation of readers are just not into holding a magazine. They apparently do read magazines in digital format but maybe not enough to ensure a stable future for the industry.

Many people are content with all the free information online now so don’t feel the need to hold a physical magazine that is already out of date. I could probably get used to reading magazines online but I don’t always know when a new one is available. I forget about to check. A printed magazine is something you receive in the mail and place on the coffee table. Online newspapers follow a regular schedule so are not as easily missed.

To simplify this, we’re all now supposed to buy a subscription service like Apple News+ that offers online access to current and past issues of a whole library of magazines and newspapers. I may end up doing this but it’ll probably end up as just another monthly service that I forget I even have.

And then I’m going to have to find something more sophisticated for the coffee table.

1 response to "The Dilemma of the Modern Coffee Table"

  1. By: Mike Moreland Posted: June 29, 2021

    Randy, I was so disappointed to hear that I missed seeing you at Uncle Denny’s funeral. Very thoughtful of you to attend and I know mom was so happy to so you. (I’m laid up at the moment as I’m sure she told you.). Denny was quite a character. Reading your blog brings back so many memories, almost as if I were writing about it myself. I’m living in Breezy Point, MN now, and as retirees my wife Tracy and I spent our first winter as “snowbirds” in South Texas last year, a tradition I suspect we’ll continue. I don’t get to Red Wing much anymore but it would be nice to grab a cup of coffee sometime when I do. Meanwhile, if you ever head up this way, my cel number us 612-251-4999. Blessings, Mike

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