Who Will Watch the Watch Magazines?
Exploring print media's place in the wristwatch magazine space.
Ten years down the road, which of today’s print magazines will still be around? It’s a question I daresay many of us ask ourselves frequently.
Some stare into crystal balls and announce that they see nothing but darkness. Me—I’m not so sure. After all, new books spring up every month, even in this difficult publishing environment.
But it’s apparent that many of today’s titles, including some of the big ones, are going to fail in the next few years. You don’t need a crystal ball (or a spreadsheet) to make that prediction.
The justification for print was once again called into question few days ago when I was hanging with friends whom I see maybe once a year. We have lunch and tell fish stories. As the meal concluded, one ol’ pal, a retired dentist, asked me a startling question: “They still publish magazines? For how much longer?” He was maybe kidding. But I don’t think so. Print magazines are an endangered species.
So, in what order will our favorite books lapse into unconsciousness and go to the great publishing beyond? Which ones have a shot at lasting? Why remain in the economically stressful print game at all?
Reflexively, I think: In the long term, only the niche books, with highly specific and demanding readerships, can survive. Audiences value their content and will seek them out. Everything else, especially the general-interest titles, will either croak or go digital-only.
On the other hand, these independent enthusiast-style titles often tend to lack funding from wealthy corporate parents. How can they make it? Moreover, their kind of content probably transfers most naturally to websites, blogs, and apps. Why even bother with all the trouble and expense of producing an actual magazine? Do an end-run around all those inconvenient print- and distribution-related expenses and be done with it.
And yet, with all their barriers to profitability, the high-priced, hyper-focused magazines seem currently to be doing OK, even as they busily create outposts and brand extensions on the web.
Among the niche books that draw my attention—and the ones I want to address today—are those that cater to wristwatch enthusiasts. (I count myself among the smitten.) One imagines that their readers are either well-heeled or hoping one day to be so. (You can never underestimate the aspirational function of luxury-goods magazines.)
The other day I grabbed several of these magazines off a newsstand in an affluent neighborhood. In some ways, they are more alike than not—so alike, in fact, that were I forced to purchase only one of these magazines, I’d not feel deprived.
- International Watch
- Watch Journal
- The Watch Magazine
I also purchased the latest Robb Report, as luxury watches play a large role in its editorial content and advertising.
All of these books, including Switzerland’s The Watch Magazine, smell like money. The paper stock is magnificent; it has an intoxicating scent. Also, all rely chiefly on supplied art from the manufacturers of the high-end timepieces that excite their readers.
Let’s be honest—there are few exclusive images in this category. Paparazzi are not auctioning hot pictures of the latest mechanical movements.
Another area of similarity: there is a certain catalog quality to the editorial. That is not necessarily a negative, however. More than anything, readers here beg to see big, detailed images of every new or revised dial or movement that comes along; that’s the draw.
I’m not going to rank these titles, but I do want to offer a few words about each.
International Watch is by far the fattest and fully formed of the bunch. If your objective is to see huge, beautifully rendered images of watches, this would be your go-to. IW is the most comprehensive watch-industry magazine out there, I’d say.
WatchTime, which in all respects is a nicely turned-out book, does offer one advantage over International Watch: it publishes the retail price of just about every timepiece it mentions. If you’re seriously in the market for new wristwatches, or even just curious, retail prices are probably going to be important to you.
Watch Journal is the real beauty here. I’d ascribe that attribute to Adam Sandow, whose company, Sandow Media, bought InSynch several years back. By taking it more upscale and renaming it Watch Journal, Sandow successfully brought it into his all-luxe catalog. His other fancy-schmancy titles, including Worth and NewBeauty, are likewise visually stunning and editorially daring. No surprise, then, that Watch Journal’s focus is broader than that of its most direct competitors. It utilizes a fair amount of space to focus on high-end cars, real estate, clothing, leather goods, and the like. It’s a risky proposition, in a sense. But it allows for a certain amount of cross-promotion and cross-selling among Sandow’s books.
Wristwatch is the weakling of this bunch, but not by a significant margin. It does its job, and its features are decent. However, the layout is a mess and there is no single thing here that commends this book over any other in its competitive set. It feels like it’s playing in the minors.
The Watches Magazine surprised me. Coming as it does from Geneva, the watch capital of the world, I would have expected an authoritative enthusiasts’ guide. Well, it’s a nice little book, for sure. Quite tidy and organized and conservatively presented. Swiss! But it offers nothing that can’t be found in any of the U.S. magazines and certainly less, in my estimation, than what is offered by International Watch.
Finally, just a few words about Robb Report. It is not a book targeted specifically at wristwatch enthusiasts, but it’s a well-known title and luxury watches have long played a significant role in its pages. Readers demand it and advertisers obviously appreciate it: the front of the book is packed with ads by watch companies. Overall, Robb Report is a credible source on the topic, but of course it is not nearly as comprehensive a source as the other magazines mentioned here.
Ultimately, as I said earlier, when considering these watch enthusiast magazines, one is forced to ask: Why do they even exist today? How? What’s their mission (other than to turn profits)? Mainly, they are announcing new products and discussing trends. That’s about it.
Well, yes. If you want to keep up with the action in the luxury-watch game—which has a fashion component but still moves at a slower pace than many other worldwide industries—go to your computer and check the blogs, web sites, and apps.
Indeed, wristwatch aficionados have lately been treated to several digital-only “magazines” that are reliable, provocative, and, obviously, timely. (My favorite is Hodinkee.com, a relative newcomer; it’s seemingly directed at a younger—but not less monied—enthusiast, and it has more attitude than you tend to find in this category.)
So, given all this, let’s return to where I started: Will any of these lavish print magazines be around in 2026?
My guess: Two or three will survive, serving an audience that has a special connection to paper and the permanence of perfect-bound editorial.
People in that group—people like me—will buy the magazines and we will use the internet, especially for its non-stop flow of news and commentary.
Everyone else will find the lush watch magazines an unnecessary indulgence, I think. Fans of high-end timepieces are perhaps indulgent to a degree, but they (we) are not spendthrifts.
This is simply in keeping with the ongoing migration of audiences from print to digital, owing mostly to economic factors. A great many magazines—particularly the niche titles that require top-notch production values—will soon enough find it too difficult to swim against the tide. Some will make it, but others—sadly—will give up.
Am I right—will the Web eventually kill off a bunch of these sleek luxury books? Will the publishing paradigm ultimately shift even more heavily in favor of digital?
Time will tell.