Print Is Dead……………Possibly.

12 03 2010

Originally posted on http://bostinnovation.com on 24th February, 2010 and reproduced with their kind permission….but to be fair I have been playing around with this in one form or another since October. It is over 1000 words, I know that a good blog should be 500-600 words long but I think that this subject is worth writing about.

We are sad to announce that Print is Dead.

It passed away quietly at home, surrounded by friends and family who mourned the passing of a means of production that had been in existence since 1440. A victim of new technology, its contribution to the world was no longer deemed necessary or relevant. The simple act of turning a page and taking time to consider the content had been replaced by a generation of users who preferred to scroll and click.

Six months ago, an editor who worked at Gourmet magazine (part of the Conde Nast empire) declared that in her opinion “print magazines as we know them will cease to exist.” She saw no future in the world of print media, insisting that “the rich experience that is in magazines will likely move to another platform. It won’t be online.”

Needless to say the interviewer was perplexed as to what this new format could be, and the editor did not expand on what she actually meant.

In the February 2010 issue of Wired (also published by Conde Nast), the editorial expressed surprise that the cutting edge mag was still being read in “its archaic paper-and-ink format”. It gently mocked its readers by informing them that “this is the magazine about the future. It’s all e-readers and iPhone apps around here……

And then the magic word was mentioned. Tablet. A device that will “convincingly replicate the print version.”

The death knell for the printed word. Or perhaps not.

Gourmet magazine had over a million subscribers. If magazines are not at the cutting edge anymore then someone had better tell the 8,300,000 readers who took Readers Digest in 2009 or the 3 million people who rely on Sports Illustrated to keep them informed. The 5 million people who enjoy National Geographic would probably like to know as well what this brave new world will entail. Boston Magazine continues to be the flagship for everything New England related and The Phoenix is still available on every street corner.

If print media is no longer considered to be cutting edge, then why do stores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble have retail space dedicated to magazines?

When a traveller passes through an airport terminal do they buy something to read, or do they download something to scroll through? When you reach the checkout at stores such as Whole Foods, CVS or Shaws, magazines are the final impulse buys of the day.

And I haven’t even mentioned books. Dan Brown has made his money from the printed word, not the scrolled – although the subject of his fiction does seem to involve some sort of biblical connotation.

Magazines are still relevant. They form a sea of options, images and opinions.

As the world of media has fragmented, the magazine format continues to provide the niche option for almost anything that the potential reader is interested in. Subjects that cover a broad range of topics, all contained within the pages of a tightly bound publication.

To access these worlds, you need to be shown they exist. That is the purpose of the front cover, an open invitation to view.

Richard Stolley, the former editor of People magazine devised the Law of Covers in the late 1970’s. Apart from the obvious notions that pretty is better than ugly, rich is better than poor and nothing beats the celebrity dead, he was a firm believer that young is better than old.

If that is the case then it is the duty of the magazine industry to ensure that they maintain a youthful tendency towards innovation and forward thinking. In the 21st Century that will include using the digital media world to enhance the print media experience.

 The December 2009 issue of Esquire trumpeted “a living, breathing, moving, talking magazine.” Straddled neatly by Robert Downey Jr., the front cover had a computerised marker which utilised the nascent technology known as Augmented Reality. By going to Esquire’s website and downloading the relevant software, the magazine could be used to view virtual content which included previews, 3-D animation and advertising.

What we are trying to do is create something that isn’t just about showing off the technology, but actually adds value to the story” explained Benjamin Palmer of the Barbarian Group who worked on the technology with Esquire , who are “planning to find even more inventive ways of using AR” according to editor David Granger.

So what will be the next step forward in the battle to keep magazines on the racks and in the minds of the purchasing public?

There are the obvious attractions of the e-reader, of digital platforms that allow the reader to download content and receive the magazine in the virtual sense. These are becoming more popular and they have the capacity to store huge reams of data and to showcase content that can be streamed directly into the device.

But it’s just not the same.

A magazine is like a factory, its words are the machinery that provides the reader with the necessary product but it still needs to showcase what it can do. It needs a shop window, a display of strength and an invitation to buy. It needs the front cover to be the welcoming face that draws the reader in and informs them as to what they can expect.

The magazine world thrives on variety and on competition and it is the Front Cover that is the first port of call for the regular reader and the uninitiated. It may not have the gravitas of content but it is the first thing that the reader sees and the face of the magazine that will be presented when it is on the shelves. It can highlight innovation, and provide a pathway for the eye before the page is turned.

Speaking at the first Magazine Innovation Summit held in New York in October 2009, Nina Link (CEO< Magazine Publishers of America), was bullish about the future. She said that “Innovation does not mean abandoning our core values in pursuit of any new and shiny digital object that comes along.  Innovation offers the ability to do business smarter and faster, and to find new ways of bringing our graphic and journalistic sensibilities to new platforms and new audiences.”

If print is dead, then it is having a very lively wake and it is the world of magazines that is ensuring that the party continues, albeit with a reduced guest list.

And I for one will be standing in the corner with a bottle of Sam Adams and a small smile, a rolled up copy of Rolling Stone in my back pocket.

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