Turning old popular science into kid's clothing
Earlier today, Roy Greenslade posted a short piece on his Guardian's media blog about what he dubbed a 'new revenue stream' for magazine publishing. 108-year-old US science magazine Popular Mechanics has sold off a load of its old cover images to Old Navy (part of Gap) to be used on children's tshirts.
I think this is FASCINATING. Firstly, I was amused by Greenslade's slightly sardonic take on it as a matter of new media business models. Arguably, Popular Mechanics and its ilk have particular competition fromWired and other similar electronics-orientated publications, but ALL magazines are suffering in the age of the web. We consume media differently these days, as well as technology. Faced with a 21st century 'crisis' in the magazine business, publishers have decided to cash in on the nostalgia market. Still, I think the history of technology issue (in terms of the content of the magazine, not just media tech) is a really key aspect of this story.
I was also interested to see that it was kid's clothing that are going to carry the images. It seems weird, perhaps, that the market is a generation who were born nearly 100 years after some of these covers were first published (more to the point, it's a fair few decades before the parents who buy the tshirts were born). Arguably, there is something particularly youthful about this sort of tech-nostalgia A sense of youthful enthusiasm for technology, even when the youths pictured would, today, be OAPs.
Follow Greenslade's link to larger coverage of the story, over at the New York Times' media blog, and we can see that the publishers want to 'revive the days when children dreamed that flying cars were just around the corner'. Note, it was children who were dreaming: surely the magazines were produced for adults, or at least a multi-generational audience? (I don't actually know much about the history of this magazine... I am just guessing). It's noticeable that there is a lot of this sort of tech-nostalgia in kid's culture already. Phillip Reeve, anyone?
The NYT post also quotes the publisher as saying that the T-shirts represent a revival of efforts to interest children in mechanics. This is, I'm sure, nothing but PR fluff. However, I do think it is interesting to see the selling of tshirts articulated in connection to science education. For one thing it reflects the history of technology issue I flagged up at the start - kids' media is largely designed around the use of technology today, rather than building, understanding, making and controlling it (at least that's what colleagues researching kids science fiction tell me).
Glancing at some examples in the huge (and addictive...) gallery of Popular Mechanics covers, I found this one from December 1925 which really reminded me of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. It's also worth noting the reference in this cover, from February 1939, to 'Davy Jones Locker' (not exactly kids books, but a story we associate with kids nonetheless), and the use of images of families too.