Our Take: Why You Should Be Reading Magazines

C/A Editor Ellen Ranta Olson shares what mags are doing right — and what lessons you can learn from them.

What makes a great magazine?

Good stories paired with even better photos.

What was the first magazine you loved? 

W — for a few reasons. The physical heft and oversized format made it feel like a real indulgence. The content itself was daydreamy for my teenaged-self and provided an escape to a more exciting/fashion-centric/glamorous world. And they put Kate Moss, who I adored, on the cover all the time.

More and more readers are getting their content online. Why do you still love magazines?

I find it extremely difficult to actually finish reading an article online. A computer/tablet/phone is just one big device of distraction, with the nonstop notifications, texts, emails and ads. Sitting down with a magazine is a way of setting aside uninterrupted time to do something I love. Also, as a mom, you get a lot of judgment if you’re on your phone with your kid around, but reading a magazine in front of your child is perfectly acceptable [laughs].

What can a content marketer learn from magazines?

Magazines plan their editorial out well in advance and they don’t create content just for content’s sake — everything that they cover is worth covering. Brands should aim to do the same. Content should be strategic and planned, rather than an afterthought. It takes a little effort up front, but creating an annual content calendar will change your life. (Or at least make your job a little easier.)

What are three magazines we should check out?

This is tough because magazines, to me, are so personal. I love AFAR for its unique-yet-accessible travel stories and fun design; The Atlantic for long reads and sane news analysis; and I’m still a huge fan of just about every women’s mag out there, from Cosmo to Vogue. It’s fun to see how they’ve evolved over the last 20 years — and also how they’ve, in many ways, stayed the same.

What brands are doing magazines right?

Net-a-Porter’s massive fashion magazine, Porter, fits right in on newsstands next to Elle and Vogue. Airbnb’s magazine, airbnbmag, reads like a real travel magazine, providing both armchair escapism and realistic trip ideas. The common theme: More magazine and great content, less brand and hard sell.

When you’re creating a publication, what lessons do you keep in mind?

In journalism school, the value of space on a page was drilled into me. Before the internet gave us the never-ending scroll, we were tasked with ensuring that everything we created was relevant and necessary, sometimes even finding the shortest synonyms for words in an effort to free up space. I still keep this in mind today as I brainstorm, write and edit, constantly examining how each piece of content serves the reader.

Ellen Ranta Olson has worked as a writer, editor and content strategist for nearly a decade, developing print and digital publications for news outlets and national brands. She is a former editor of CBS Television’s Watch magazine and Dorado, a luxury lifestyle magazine for the Southwest. At C/A, she develops content for The Ritz-Carlton, the University of Arizona, Ochsner Health System and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.


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