Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Afterlife of a Magazine

Sean Miller's National Geographic bookshelf was a finalist in 
an inhabitat green design contest.

Congrats to all the National Magazine Award winners announced last week. Especially to Time which won magazine of the year. But let’s face it. No matter how many awards a magazine wins, there are really very few you actually (or even should) keep.

So what happens to magazines after they’ve been “consumed?” For the most part, used magazines are tossed, and though fully recyclable, 80% are thrown out as trash. Taken together, magazines and newspapers account for about one quarter of our landfills.

So while 20% of magazines are being recycled, there is a teensy tiny fraction of magazines that are actually being upcycled and repurposed, mostly by eco-friendly/unemployed crafters. It’s not at all unusual to find bowls, beads, bags, and notebooks all fashioned from discarded magazines using techniques ranging from bookbinding to Victorian bead-making. Though glossy fashion magazines, of course, are favored for all the colorful pictures and ads, when it comes to individual titles, there’s only one magazine that “owns the category,” as they say. There’s National Geographic and then there’s everyone else. Take a quick look on Etsy and you’ll find envelopes, stickers, notebooks, and yards of garlands, all repurposed from Nat Geos of both yesteryear and today.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is about the brand (I’m sure it’s been case studied) that always made National Geographic the magazine you never threw out. Perhaps it was color photography at a time when the world was black and white--or the incredible maps, or the yellow spines. Or even the authoritative title, which no focus group would ever rate as catchy or memorable. One physical quality that probably contributed to its staying power could be, literally, its physical staying power. Unlike many other early-mid 20th Century magazines that simply crumbled with age, National Geographic didn’t fall apart, or disintegrate in quite the same way. And in groups, the enduring tablet-like form factor has always lent itself to such satisfying stacks.

Over the years National Geographic has won a National Magazine Award in probably every award category for which it is eligible, including Magazine of the Year, which it won last year. So even though it has absolutely no need for nonawards of my own conjuring, it will always remain the top spot-holder of the non-category, “Most Repurposed.”

Map-covered school chair/desk

Hang tags

Woven coasters

Picture frame

Collaged handmade sketchbook

Pine cone ornament

Gift wrapping

The iconic yellow magazines as decor

1 comment:

  1. 'The iconic yellow magazine as decor.' I just need to lay mine on their sides & I'll be decorating! Hooray!


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