Contents pages are the magazine equivalent of the appendix, a part that we no longer need. Evolution from print to digital has made this part of a publication redundant. It’s easier to navigate a digital title from the thumbnail grid showing all the pages laid out in an overview. When we can dip in and start anywhere we no longer need to rely on a couple of pages at the front to find our way around.
In my mind the content section no longer has a function.
This thought causes me distress, particularly when I’m asked to write these pages – it seems a pointless exercise, like an army major ordering the parade ground to be cleaned with a toothbrush. I do as I’m told, first reading the entire magazine before putting pixels to screen and rising to the challenge of trying to find a new way to describe the news section and cross referencing page numbers. Given the magazine is published monthly and been going for over fifty years, this can often be no easy task.
Still I crack on taking perverse professional pride in my efforts to give readers an idea of what’s in the magazine, while believing few will ever read my well-honed words. Certainly none of the friends and family who I insist participate in my straw poll, the one that confirms my suspicions. Most of us, it seems, start at the back of a magazine and flick forwards. Waylaid by more interesting articles we rarely make it to the contents at the front. We only go there in extreme circumstances, consulting the contents section as we would an instruction manual we turn to when stuck, but didn’t bother to read first.
It’s this behaviour that lets publishers get away with hyperbole on the cover. If I pick up a magazine that promises ‘Beat Back Pain Forever’ and can’t find this article I’ll check the contents page to find it on p34 as ‘(Sort of Like) A Few Helpful Tips On Better Posture’. Often I’ll feel short changed, slightly ripped off. But how many of us bother to check that the inside matches the siren call of the front cover? Perhaps this is where the contents page still has an important role to play, informing readers of what’s included in the rest of the magazine. My advice then is to find out what you are really getting for your £3.80, skip the cover and not the contents.