I've got magazines for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles

What is the future of magazines? I had pondered that quite a bit over the years as I've watched magazines get thinner and fewer. And, the last magazine I subscribed to was Rolling Stone in college so it appears that I have been part of the problem. Luckily for me, Delta Air Lines was about to help me get back in the magazine game by giving me a reason to try out a few.

There is this nifty little program called 'Magazines for Miles' that is in place for us slackers who accumulate airline miles and then let them sit until they expire. I had enough miles for a ticket for myself somewhere and of course, I considered flying to a place for virtually no reason but then remembered how much I dislike flying and hanging out in airports.

Also, I had enough miles for a few magazines.

Actually, I had enough miles for every magazine on the form but two.

So, I dutifully subscribed to:
Business Week
Marie Claire
Diabetes Forecast
Entertainment Weekly
ESPN the Magazine
Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated for Kids
The Atlantic
U.S. News and World Report
Woman's Day
Travel + Leisure

After two months of my mailman hating me and stacks of magazines all over the house, I'm ready to share a few thoughts on the state of magazines as we enter 2010.

First, magazines are just as viable and needed in the computer age as they were years before we were all bombarded with bits and bytes. Sure, you can read "content" on your laptop or netbook but you really only end up with little chunks of information. Also, you can sit with it (or hide with it) anywhere and just get away from the distractions of being connected. I read blogs but get pulled away by links or videos or Twitter. With a magazine, I can concentrate.

Second, maybe there is a ton of talk about e-readers these days but I don't see them taking over magazines in the same way they may be taking over books (at least if you believe what Amazon is saying). The e-ink system may reproduce most of the feel of reading a book but there is nothing that an reproduce the glossy color and layout freedoms of a magazine. Sports Illustrated (Time Inc.) is working on a tablet that is a full color ereader. There is a mocked up "demo" here. How far off is it and how practical is it?  Will Time Inc. or others find this distribution model profitable enough to end magazines as we know it today and cut out the majority of readers who will not be able to justify the expense of a dedicated item when they already have laptops or netbooks that serve the same purpose?

Why not just create the same program for the devices we already have and charge for access to the content? Look at XBOX Live for inspiration. Have teaser content to get people to install the software and show them what they are missing and what they could gain by subscribing to get the full package.

Also, I find it an inconvenience in having yet another item to keep charged up. I have a used Sony PRS-505 and I rarely use it. Magazines and books are just more appealing to me but maybe I am just an old poot. There is a ton of free e-reader content out there so you can fill your e-reader up with books you'll never read instead of filling up your bookshelves with books you never read.

Think you're saving the environment by having an e-reader? Near 100% of unsold books and magazines are recycled and have been for years (way before recycling was trendy). And, if you are worried about cluttering up the house, you have to be willing to only save the books that means something to you and trading in, loaning out, or giving away the rest after you read them. (This concept works for tons of items. I've given away radios, old computers, furnitures and even a shredder. Life's too short to be held hostage by possessions but that is another entry for another time!). Magazines should be shared or recycled.

So, what magazines really stand out? What have I been missing out on? I find The Atlantic to be the real surprise of the bunch. I had never read it before subscribing and it is the one I read cover to cover. It is a fantastic magazine with tons of great writing. Real Simple is still my favorite magazine and the only one I still buy in stores (It's not in the Mags for Miles program). AARP The Magazine is another that doesn't fit my demographic (though I am rapidly getting there) but has been a great surprise and is a really great magazine that apply to any age. I borrow it from my wife's parents since that one is membership subscription only.

Other honorable mentions:
Sports Illustrated - some of the finest writing you'll read. Don't like sports? No problem - it's still some of the finest reporting and writing out there. Give it a try and you'll end up even finding the oddest sports fascinating.
BusinessWeek - again, a surprise to me. It thought that it would be stodgy and old fashioned but it's not.
Entertainment Weekly - I'll take it over watching the E channel any day.

That's it. I need to go. I have a stack of magazines to read.