Some of the most popular articles on Caravan Chronicles are the “practical” type posts. Anything from the electrical stuff through to little modifications and projects I’ve done. A while ago I had the chance to look through some of the caravanning magazines from the late 50’s through to the late 60’s and they were full of projects. Installing a new roof light, repairing door hinges, updating handles and magnetic catches… in fact all sorts. One interesting early article was about upgrading your caravans road lights to install indicators using the ‘new’ 7 pin plug!
In the loft I have a book that was bought for me as a Christmas present back in 1973 when I was a teenager. It’s the Readers Digest Repair Manual, the complete guide to home maintenance. 700 pages of practical advice and ‘how to’ articles about repairing and maintaining things in and around the home. There are no photographs but hundreds of fantastic line drawings making up simple step by step pictorial guides.
One of the chapters is dedicated to repairing and maintaining your caravan, showing how to maintain your caravan brakes, the hitch, replacing broken window seals, fixing leaks and damp and repairing the foot pump for the water supply amongst many.
All this got me thinking, caravan magazines now seem to have lost the practical element to them. The magazines I looked at all had several practical projects in each issue, some were simple and some more complex spread over two or more issues. There was a great one about upgrading your A frame gas cylinder holder so it would hold two cylinders and another about making a fold down spare wheel carrier.
Nowadays caravan.. and I guess motorhome magazines too, are all about the latest offerings from the industry. ‘Features’ on places to go that the rival magazines covered the previous month and probably were also covered in last years editions too. Each month we seem to get a repeat of all the latest caravan layouts (why don’t they make that a pull out section at the start of each manufacturing production season and stop repeating it every month?) and for me, there is only so many times you can review a caravan, be it a new one or a ‘featured’ previously owned one.
If I look at one of my favourite magazines – Land Rover Owner, each month there are technical articles from long running projects such as restoring a classic ‘Series” Land Rover and rebuilding gearboxes to short articles like replacing clutches, installing new equipment and simple upgrades. All written by people that have been tinkering with Land Rovers long before they picked up a pen. I’m not saying that everyone that reads the articles is going to rush out at weekend and try out the latest project, but there will be some that say “I’m going to have a go at that”.
The caravan (and motorhome) magazines we have now are more adverts and photographs than written words. A quick few lines to say “we went here” followed by a lot of photos and “we did this” with more photos. As a photographer, I know photos for magazines are cheaper than the written word and it’s easier to fill a page with photos than it is with good quality writing. “A Photograph is worth a thousand words” is the old saying… well sometimes I think we want the thousand words.
There are some caravan journalists – Andrew Ditton for example, that live the caravan life and write from experience. No matter if it’s a trip or product review, I am much more inclined to listen to Andrew saying ” I like this product because…..” than an anonymous editorial saying ” We like this product” knowing they only like it because some manufacturer has supplied it free and usually has a big advert somewhere in the magazine. I know Andrew has been there, used it, tested it and his practical experience has come forth when writing about it.
I wonder if caravan magazines will ever become practical again? Probably not. Most of their revenue now is derived from advertisements and ‘sponsored’ product reviews, not from sales of copies. I wonder if I’m part of the problem, writing and publishing ‘how to’ guides on the internet for anyone to see. But then again if magazines carried more practical information, would I be doing it or would I be writing in to the readers section with a simple project or tip? In the meantime, I’ll just get on with the next project and keep on scribbling.
PS… I’ll leave you with a couple more pages from the Readers Digest Repair Manual… click on the images to see full size.