Whither the future of magazines? Wherever our readers lead us

I’ve been pondering the raison d’être of magazines over the last few weeks both in general and, of course, for Chemistry World specifically (I do have a job to do after all). I think I’ve managed to distil it down to one word: engagement. And what a breezy, catch-all word that is. We’re here to keep you turning pages and to occupy your thoughts. There’s an Orwellian note creeping in already. We want your eyes on our content (and our advertising). We want you to anticipate the next issue, talk about our articles with your friends and colleagues and, in the digital age, share, tweet, like and poke us in the hope that others will be drawn to us, will talk about us and will love us too. Blanche du Bois anyone?

It’s the same for any magazine – there may seem to be a chasm between Chemistry World and, say, Glamour, but despite the undeniable differences, the principles of both magazines are aligned: to hook you and keep you. And we can only hope to do that by understanding our readers. So if we learned that our community felt there was a paucity of fashion advice that’s right for them, then you could expect to see an article on the sartorial scientist in Chemistry World. Or would you find that cheap or incongruous or offensive? Again, we can only know by engaging with you, by developing trust and understanding.

Because ultimately, a magazine is a snapshot of a community and if you don’t see at least a few faces you recognise in that picture then you’ll never feel at home. Nostalgia plays a part perhaps, an intimacy, the sharing of private jokes, a knowing wink. That said, have you ever looked at adverts and wondered what marketers think of you – commercials for stair lifts in Countdown (you’re old); for health foods in documentaries (you’re concerned); for dating websites in late night movies (fill this blank in yourself). Sometimes it seems insightful, other times insulting.

This is why I’m trying to understand what makes you tick. Why you engage with us, if indeed you are engaged. As I nestle my feet further under the table at Chemistry World, the most valuable information for me so far has been insights on our readers. This comes easier online (our story has received a thousand views! ‘handsomebanana74’ has left a comment!) and harder in print. We do all love print, right? Our relationship with print goes deeper than our browsing history. Is it the sensory experience? Its dependability when compared with the skittish internet? Or its decrepitude as it yellows, crumples and ages, destined to line drawers and wrap glasses, thus mirroring our own transience? I’m channelling Prufrock now.

So: a simple and entirely unscientific engagement experiment. Tell me why you read magazines and what keeps you coming back for more. Do you feel or act differently when reading print and digital media? You can do this via Twitter (@ChW_adam), by email (chemistryworld@rsc.org), or by post. Even a handful of comments will let me know that I engaged a few of you sufficiently to reach the end of this editorial.