The Green Issue: Can Environmentalism Still Sell Magazines?

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Photo courtesy of Monocle

Seems green's a tough sell on the newsstands these days—maybe it's the general decline of print advertising, the massive economic downturn, or an over saturation of eco-friendliness in the media. Whatever it is, "green" issues have been left on the shelves at an increasingly high rates, according to Media Week. Discover Magazine's green issue this year sold around 20,000 less copies than its average—93,000 compared to its usual 115,000. Backpacker's global warming issue suffered a similar fate, selling 5,000 less than its 50,000 average. The stalwart National Geographic Green Guide is dropping from a bimonthly to a quarterly.

So what's the deal? Is everyone getting sick of hearing about climate change? Or how green and awesome celebrities are? Or are they just sick of the bandwagon approach, and the media treating environmentalism as though it were any other fad? My vote's for the latter (well, a little for the second one too). Here's why.The Green Media Craze
Around 2006 or so, we saw a peaking of "green" content in print and news media—it was everywhere, having successfully risen to mainstream pervasiveness. New magazines had sprung up devoted entirely to environmentalism (Plenty), and a whole crop of websites and blogs had launched in the name of green.

Problem is, with all that ubiquity, "green" was bound to be dulled into a generalization, a sort of quick, all purpose reference point that grouped stories about new scientific findings on the ice melt in Greenland and the kind of Prius that George Clooney was driving into the same category. After years of that practice, it's no surprise that now a "green" issue of any kind seems tired and "done" before.

Case in point: there's very little that's compelling about seeing Madonna taking the spotlight as an environmental champion on the cover of Vanity Fair's green issue (the issue underperformed, but only slightly). I mean, who has ever considered the Material Girl an icon of environmental stewardship? Anyone? It's bandwagoning to the extreme. If a green issue is Madonna holding the globe like Atlas, then a green issue can pretty much be anything.

The Bright Future of Green Journalism
So maybe what's happened is that those who are more engaged in serious environmental journalism and opinion gravitated towards specific websites, magazines, and blogs that dig deeper into the green world. Most everyone else might be a little tired of seeing the seemingly gross generalization that is the "Green Issue" and less inclined to pick up a copy.

The challenge now will be to present new environmental stories—and there are tons of them that would still be genuinely fascinating even to the not-so-eco portions of the public—in ways that avoid the new clichés of modern environmentalism. Green stories won't be in short supply any time soon. Just watch for the surfeit of "eco-friendly" and "green" terminology once plastered across magazine covers to slowly slide into more subtle descriptors.

Environmentalism will continue to hold public interest—Americans say they're more inclined to pay attention and fight climate now more than ever—it just needs a break from celebrity saturation and being treated like a fad. And this could be a truly beneficial period for green journalism--if people are indeed tired of "green" celeb stories, perhaps that will open the channels for more and better in-depth environmental news.

More on Green Magazine Issues:
The Surfer's Path: A 100% Green Magazine
Fortune Magazine Conference: Searching for Gold in Green

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