Updated on 10.01.10

The Value of “Project” Magazines

Trent Hamm

As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I subscribe to a handful of magazines of various kinds.

What I’ve found is that these magazines (aside from a couple of freebies that we won’t pay to renew) fall into one of two categories. Our magazines either are a source of long-form essays that are hard to read in an online context (like The New Yorker or The Atlantic) or they’re what I like to call “project” magazines.

Simply put, “project” magazines are publications that directly instruct you or encourage you to do something in your own life. Cooking magazines fall directly into this category, as does any sort of do-it-yourself home improvement magazines. Ones we subscribe to include Make, Cooks Illustrated, and Bon Appetit.

For our dollar, these magazines have made a tremendous positive impact in our lives. They’ve encouraged us to cook at home instead of going out (saving us money and also increasing our kitchen skills), take on home improvement projects, and experiment with countless other little things, too.

Along the way, though, we’ve learned a few things about how to really put such “project” magazines to good use.

Use them as a resource, not as an archive. It isn’t long before a new issue of a cooking magazine is splotched with stains from our kitchen. Rather than worrying about perfect archival condition, we often take them right out in the kitchen with us to use them for ideas while cooking.

Be willing to not follow the instructions to the letter. Most of the time, the ideas and projects in such magazines don’t perfectly match what we’re doing at home. A home improvement project doesn’t quite match up with what’s in our home. A recipe doesn’t line up well with our tastes or with what assets we have in our pantry. Use such ideas as a starting point and a reference and do your own thing – it’s incredibly rewarding and builds up your ability to improvise.

Save what has value – toss the rest. We don’t keep archives of most of these magazines. Instead, when a new issue comes in, I go through the previous issue, pull out ideas I might actually use in the future, and toss the rest. I often scan these pages and keep them electronically for future use, but you can just as easily keep them in a folder or two. It’s a lot easier to browse through 50 intriguing recipes than a thousand uninteresting ones with a few needles in the haystack.

Don’t just read – do. I wrote about mirror neurons a while back, but the basic principle holds here, too. Just reading about something can often feel a bit fulfilling and subtly convince you to not do it. Don’t fall into that. When you see something intriguing, do it.

Pick “project” magazines that align with things you do already. We like to cook, so we subscribe to a few cooking magazines. I like to tinker with electronics, so I subscribe to Make. There are lots of hobbies that we don’t engage in (even if they seem interesting), so we don’t waste our money subscribing to “project” magazines in those areas.

Don’t believe that magazines will change your behavior – they won’t. Carrying on with that previous thought, simply subscribing to a hobby magazine won’t convince you to start actually doing it. The desire to actually start doing something comes from within – external motivators and ideas only channel it in an interesting way. If you’re not already doing something, a magazine won’t help you start.

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  1. Jennifer says:

    I agree that magazines can be really helpful in goal setting and a real benefit to your lives. Currently I subscribe to Natural Home, and Farm and Ranch Living, because these are goals I strive for. I’ve made a binder, where I put all the pictures and information about the land/homes I would like to own someday, and the garden/animals I would like to have. By getting it out frequently and looking at it, and adding to it, I remind myself why I am curtailing the frivolous spending. When I am in the store with something in my hand, those pictures come up, and I have to ask myself if this purchase will bring me closer to my goals, or further. Its been an amazing revelation, and I love my binder and every day I get a teeny, tiny step toward my goal.

  2. rosa rugosa says:

    I also agree that magazines can be a worthwhile investment, although they’re often dismissed as frivolous spending. We’re pretty passionate about gardening; we took a lot of courses at the Arnold Arboretum several years ago, and it’s been a wonderful hobby that has really enriched our world. We subscribe to Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening, and I consider them our “continuing education” program. We actually subscribe to a bunch of different magazines, but we read them, and pass them along to others, who in turn pass them on to others. So I think it’s money well spent, as long as we can afford the outlay.

  3. Julie says:

    We have subscribed to Reminisce magazine since its inception. Our 3 children love the publication and my 16 and 18 year old sons still look forward to reading the latest issue. (although they might not admit it.) I consider these to be worth the investment because we pass them along to retirement homes when we are done with them. Most seniors don’t have access to on-line magazines.

  4. lurker carl says:

    I notice “project” magazines eventually recycle their content and make it appear fresh by incorporating the latest fads in that particular field. If you’re still passionate about that hobby after several years, joining a group of like-minded folks will be more stimulating and helpful than a publication.

  5. michael bash says:

    I’m concerned about your use of the word “toss”. I know you like to use casual terms in your writing, e.g. grab a package from the freezer, toss it in the oven, throw it on the plate. But if toss for your mags means put in the garbage, you’re making a big mistake. I circulate mags to family and friends, and when all that is finished they go for recycling. Nothing for the landfill. Please encourage your readers to do the same. Thanks.

  6. JOA says:

    We also subscribe to some “project” magazines, including Bon Appetit which we love. I just wanted to add a little advice – be careful about improvising a recipe that involves baking cakes and pastries. If the ratios of ingedients are off or missing entirely, you might wind up with a mess. Baking is usually a pretty exact science and tinkering with a recipe could have bad results – always do a test run if you’re fixing it for a dinner party or the like.

  7. Chet says:

    I recently started a subscription to “The Family Handyman” after several months of browsing their website.

    I love it so far. They had a great deal on it too, plus an extra free year with the initial yearly purchase.

  8. Carmen says:

    If you’re scanning in recipes from Cook’s Illustrated for future use, it might be worth your while to get the online subscription. I’m pretty sure you get access to everything you’d get in the paper copy, you could still copy or print (to PDF?) the recipes you really wanted to keep, and you’d save on clutter!

  9. kathryn says:

    I completely agree with buying project magazines. In my case, it’s art “how to” magazines. I don’t feel I can tear stuff out and toss the rest, though, so I put sticky tabs on the articles of techniques I am likely to try in the future. Sure, it takes up more space but having it available for inspiration, eye candy or a reference is great for those days when I am at a loss for inspiration.

  10. Briana @ GBR says:

    I found a post that was talking about developing your own MBA program by using resources like audio, books, videos, etc. I think you could incorporate “project magazines” into your own curriculum too. If you’re learning from it, take those articles and put it into your program.

  11. Marie A says:

    I love project magazines. I read Cooking Light magazine every month, and get the subscription so it’s only $1 an issue. One of the things I really like is that all the recipes are available online for free at the same time as the magazine, so I can pick the recipes I want to save, go online and copy/paste the text into my digital cookbook in google docs (which I can get to from my phone while putting together my shopping list wherever I am).

    Why do I still get the magazine, you might ask? because it includes articles which put the recipes and other nutritional health news into perspective. And I always pass it on to other people so they can enjoy it too.

  12. Jo Ann says:

    Our library has a great FREE magazine recycle table where folks can take drop off magazines that have been read and pick up different ones to take home.

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