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Well, well, well, how the turntables… for Michael Scott's favourite magazine. And for a lot of those who looked forward to browsing through our beloved seatback mags, the print-is-dead prophecy is rearing its head again. For now, the simple pleasure of reading about the golden age of television and San Francisco's best seafood restaurants is going to be gone soon.
After a memorable run as the reigning in-flight publication of the American Airlines, American Way is set to go out of print, as was widely reported earlier this month. The June 2021 issue of the iconic magazine, which carries a story on the hippest neighbourhoods in the US, will be its last.
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The reasons for the closure are manifold: the revenue from readership is reported to have dropped to half at the time the pandemic broke out globally in 2020; also, eschewing the physical magazine, in terms of the weight of its paper, is seen to reduce fuel costs (a former editorial employee noted that the magazine kept getting thicker in its heyday and was at one point, "thicker than a phone book").
These factors, coupled with the need to "eliminate non-essential items and reduce touch points", as a spokesperson for Delta Airlines had said when their in-flight magazine Sky had been discontinued last year, have supposedly led to the steady transformation of the seatback mag into an irrelevant passenger.
For fifty-five years, American Way, like other long-running inflight publications, defined the aesthetic and service quality of the airlines despite occasional questionable features. Despite the fact that not much is expected from seatback magazines, the publication upheld the aspirational lifestyle ethos and brand sensibility of the US carrier. A number of prominent figures including pop culture figures, Hollywood stars and media moguls, featured on the mag's cover.
The in-flight magazine's pre-pandemic resistance to claims of obsolesence and competition from digital modes of entertainment—onboard movies, WiFi and other options—is commendable. American Way is said to have had a readership of 200 million a year, as reported by Financial Times, thanks on the surface to the captive audience inside flights. However, the real reason had to be its editorial standards and a legacy status that kept its pick-up rates high.
The disintegration of the humble inflight magazine over the past year and a half can be attributed to anything but the apparent risk that they pose as carriers or spreaders of the virus. The British company Ink, which publishes three of American Airlines' inflight publications including American Way, had famously added an antimicrobial finish to the paper; a magazine, owing to its thin and porous pages, anyway runs a miniscule risk of spreading COVID-19.
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Experts and industry veterans note that the end of the in-flight magazine has been a long time coming, with hand-held devices having replaced the concept of traditional in-flight entertainment very long ago. The requirement and ROI on the seatback mag has come under some scrutiny of late, with climate and environmental advocacy voting against the excess of a relic of a long gone past.
Read: Delta Introduces More Women-Led Content on Their In-Flight Entertainment Channels
That said, airlines have tried their best to keep the legacy and demand alive. United Airlines started mailing their in-flight mag Hemispheres to their top-tier customers holding Elite memberships. In 2015, American Way underwent an elaborate rebrand as Ink came on board as their new publisher.
We don't know for how long, but for those of you looking to indulge some good old nostalgia—the mag's back issues from 2007 are available here.
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