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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Courting the Readers Who Do Not Read

A few days ago I got a call from a publisher who wanted me to print a lengthy op-ed on the problems he faced in distributing his magazine. He insisted that the issue was extremely important. Newspapers such as Moskovskiye Novosti and Gazeta incur huge losses because of poor distribution, and some, like Russky Kuryer, have shut down, he said. Russky Kuryer did suspend publication a few weeks ago, it's true, but the paper's general director blamed the closure not on poor distribution but on meager demand for serious news coverage in today's Russia.

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It used to be that media types blamed their problems on the Kremlin's machinations. Now the readers are letting them down. Both excuses bear little relation to the facts. The biggest problem facing the press today is financial backing. Why would anyone sink his money into launching another daily newspaper, for example, when the market is already saturated?

The situation in the mass-market media isn't much better. You get the impression that for these publishers, readers are little more than morons with a pathological passion for color photographs. One demographic dominates the market: successful 25- to 35-year-olds with money to burn. Though there may be as many publications targeting this group as there are yuppies to buy them, a number of established titles are hopping on the band wagon as well.

Take the arts and society weekly Ogonyok, once my grandmother's favorite magazine. During perestroika I would wake up at 6 a.m. and stand in line just to get hold of a copy. Last November, however, its publishing house decided to target a younger demographic and transform the magazine with the help of readers, whose opinions would be solicited via the Internet. Following perestroika -- apparently on the advice of its readers -- Ogonyok started to look a lot like it did before perestroika, only worse. The articles were so short that they weren't even interesting to scan, much less read.

While Ogonyok was reinventing itself, I began reading the Russian edition of Newsweek, which actually does have articles worth reading. Editor Leonid Parfyonov, who arrived from the world of television, seems not to believe that text simply occupies space better filled with photos.

I suspect that advertisers are the ones forcing journalists to write in this new "text message" style, in the belief that the wealth is concentrated in the hands of twentysomethings. But believe it or not, my demographic -- the 45- to 55-year-olds -- likes to dine out on occasion, dress well and vacation in fashionable places. And all of us over 35 or so haven't lost our fondness for reading. But soon we'll have nothing to read at all. The twentysomethings won't either, of course, but they don't read anyway.

Alexei Pankin is opinion page editor at Izvestia.