In the wake of a turbulent year for shelter magazines, we asked designers if they still value being published in print. The consensus is yes—to an extent.
It’s been a tumultuous year for design magazines, what with the restructuring of Hearst’s shelter books, which resulted in new editorial directions at both House Beautiful and Veranda, and the more recent news that Traditional Home would transition into a special-interest title, publishing only a few times a year—not to mention what felt like an industry-wide game of musical chairs. While the changes seemed abrupt, they were not altogether shocking given the ever-increasing preference that consumers (and media companies) show for digital content.
Like it or not, design magazines are changing with the times, often chasing a younger demographic, placing an emphasis on celebrity homes—or, as New York designer Michael Adams put it, “featuring people with more Instagram followers than talent.” On a recent episode of the Business of Home podcast, renowned Manhattan-based designer Vicente Wolf opined on the state of shelter titles: “There was a time when I felt that to have my work appear in a magazine was the only way to show people what direction I was moving in. I don’t know that that’s the case anymore.”
One of the driving forces in the changes across both the magazine and design industries has been Instagram, which offers designers an immediate way to showcase their work and a direct means of communication with potential clients. The appeal of Instagram and other online platforms has, in some ways, diminished the allure of being published in print. “I now go through this debate of whether or not to just post images of a project on social media, where I will actually get new clients, or to submit them to a magazine, where they might hold it for a year or more,” says Andrew Howard, an interior designer in Jacksonville, Florida. “I do think design magazines are becoming less important. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop reading them, or that I don’t love them. But as far as them driving our business or being relevant to how we make money, they are becoming less important.”
Instagram has become an increasingly crucial part of a designer’s brand, a free way to advertise not only your work but your personal aesthetic and lifestyle. “Instagram is becoming the new magazine,” says Washington, D.C.–based designer Christian Daw, who boasts more than 200,000 followers on the platform. “I treat my account as a modern-day publication. The way I curate my feed and the way I prepare my posts—it’s [like] the perspective of an editor in chief of a magazine.” Similarly, Howard says that the main reason he has his work photographed these days is so that it can make a bigger impact when he posts it online. “I don’t think we get work from being published,” he says. “But social media drives so much of what we do these days and has expanded our reach.”
Still, the appeal of print isn’t lost on him. “At this point,” he says. “I’m only inclined to submit projects if I know [my work] is an exact match for that magazine,” like a historic Southern home he recently completed that will be featured in an upcoming issue of Veranda. “That was something I knew would be a fit for their style and their readers.” Another reason Howard may be less inclined to pursue print opportunities is that he’s been published in the past: “For the most part, being published once or seven times is the same,” he says. “If a client sees that I was published in House Beautiful, they’re not going to ask, ‘How many times?’”
While social media offers a certain ease and appeal, many designers point out facets of print design media that Instagram can’t compete with—like the ability to hire world-class photographers and stylists to shoot your project (and foot the bill). “There’s still some- thing about the amount of money and time it takes to produce a shoot and make a magazine,” says Noz Nozawa, a designer based in San Francisco. “It’s still a lot more meaningful to be published in a physical magazine than to be featured online. There’s something incredibly elegant about the art of editing, and I don’t think that’s going to go away.”
Because the audience for print design magazines tends to be older and more affluent than the average Instagram user, Detroit and New York–based Corey Damen Jenkins says there’s value in reaching both audiences. “What would we have left if these magazines weren’t investing in interior designers? It’s a symbiotic relationship that we should proactively protect.” He has a point: After being featured twice in Traditional Home, including a spot on the cover, Jenkins was approached by one of the vendors he’d used in the project and wound up creating a product line for that brand. He also estimates that he got nine new clients across the country. “And those were the ones we accepted,” he says. “We got several dozen inquiries based on those two stories. In two cases, clients had saved those issues for a few years before they called and hired me. It all came from being seen in print—people hold on to these magazines in a way that they don’t hold on to blog posts.”
Header image: A living room by Corey Damen Jenkins that appeared on the cover of Traditional Home in 2017, which he estimates brought in nine new clients | Werner Straube