Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Death of Print?

This month our Smithsonian magazine came wrapped in a paper sleeve that says “Go Green.”

The marketing copy promises that any subscriber willing to quit getting the magazine and instead switch to a digital version will receive TWO FREE ISSUES.

The copywriters came up with nine reasons to dump the paper option:
1. There are those two free print issues.
2. Faster delivery than the print version.
3. Download anytime.
4. Less paper clutter. (Have they seen my coffee table?)
5. Adjustable font size for easy reading.
6. Advanced search capabilities.
7. Easy access to Web goodies.
8. Easy to search, share, and save (sounds like #6 again).
9. Help the environment.

I sympathize with the venerable Smithsonian, one of the best magazines out there. Surely they’re facing the same financial crunch every magazine is dealing with: declining advertising, declining subscribers, and rising print and distribution costs.

But it makes me wonder. Is Smithsonian’s print-to-digital special offer one we’ll see repeated at other magazines? Is this just a one-time move to siphon off screen-friendly subscribers, or part of a wider strategy to phase out the print version entirely? (Their FAQs don't say). Do those nine incentives make you want to switch away from paper?
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The Smithsonian’s GoGreen campaign
Sample digital issue, link.

29 comments:

ivo.de.wispelaere said...

I don't like reading complete magazines on a computer screen. What I like is taking a book/magazine/whatever with me outside/to the toilet/wherever I want.

But of course, there is the eco-argument...

Erik Bongers said...

I agree with the guy with the very belgian name, above.

Many of my invoices (for electricity, phone, internet) reach me in digital format only (read: via email). I fill in my tax form online. The other day my father requested a form from a governemtal department via email and was promptly helped.


On the other hand, there are a few contemporary photographers who's work I follow closely. Most of their work can be found online. Buth when a book comes out, I buy it, even though I may already know all the pictures they contain.

Magazines fall somewhere inbetween. The more technical they are, the more I favour online. The more visual they are...
Well, this is all very recognizable I guess.

I fear that paper magazines and books will gradually become a luxury product.

But if this evolution (cheap internet info and expensive paper info) means that more info is reachable to more people, I'm actually quite in favour!

So the main question for me is: does 'electronic' info really reach more people?

Steve said...

I agree with the two guys with the Belgian names, above.

As a subscriber to the New Yorker, I can read the on-line version or wait for the paper/print. I tried the electronic one a few times but didn't get very far into it. Given that my primary NYer reading moments are with a sandwich at lunch, I'm not inclined to bring the laptop to the table and try to keep the mustard off it.

I sometimes think that if the electronic version of books and magazines had come first, and then someone developed a new breakthrough -- the paper/print version -- we'd be dazzled by its portability, foldability, and toughness.

huganatomy said...

The reason I buy magazines in the first place is to have a quick read in places my computer can't reach, like a bit of bathroom reading or during a particularly long red light. I think removing a magazine from print completely could severely damage its readership. My mom, for instance, is more likely to buy a paper magazine than to scour the internet for the same article - it's more of a tedious task for her than it is for me.

mordicai said...

Ben Afleck was joking about this sort of thing on Rachel Maddow-- when his daughter grows up, how will he explain "newspapers"?

"Well sweetheart, it was like someone took the parts of the news, & then instead of reading them online, they printed all their favorite stories, & then delivered the print-outs to everyone's house, individually."

Books-- books aren't dead, but periodicals? Man, rising print & publishing costs? It isn't rising, it is dropping-- dramatically! Or at least...once you factor in electronic distro...

Tristan Alexander said...

Not everyone is techno savy or has a lap top to take anyplace (I don't). I much prefer reading and looking at real magazines/books. I hate reading anything more than a few paragraphs on the computer and the photos which give me inspiration and are sometimes used as reference, work MUCH better for me in paper form! I just have to print them out if I find them online.
I remember many years ago when computers first started being common and they declared that paper books would disapear. They haven't and I don't think they ever will!

Bookish said...

With the speed of our internet, I certainly wouldn't! It would be time to read next months before I finished this months...

Andrés Carrandi said...

While I think more and more publications will start to offer this kind of deals, I do believe the day digital formats will fully replace print is very far away in the future.

Screens still do not provide the same texture as paper (no matter what amazon or Sony claim), devices are not friendly with many formats (can you imagine Dinotopia in your Kindle?) and the very fact that they are devices you have to charge, that can break if dropped and that are suscpetible to malfunction cannot replace printed material, one of the noblest things on earth; no power? you dropped it? It doesn't matter. Your book or magazine is still there.

jeff jordan said...

It seems pretty funny/contradictory that if you agree to switch to electronic/digital format, they'll give you 2 free PRINT issues. What's wrong with this picture?

I spend enough time in front of my computer just doing business and so on. Maybe the next iteration will be an implant, elective surgery--email directly to your brain. What could be quicker than that?

kev ferrara said...

A world full of people sitting alone, gawking at screens isn't a healthy world. Paper is a more humane and leisurely/restful invention that the LCD screen, which is always strobing light at you.

A great deal of magazines realized as far back as the 1930s that the real money was in getting advertisers to buy ad space in the magazine. In order to make that advertising space more attractive, many copies of magazines where printed just to be given away, to artificially boost circulation numbers, to impress advertisers.

The internet has usurped that "free-circulation" model, leaving magazines and newspapers in the lurch.

Being too clever only lasts a little while.

I'm not sure if the smithsonian works that way, but they do sell some rather hokey stuff for such a prestigious magazine. I also wonder whether the two free issues thing has to do with artificially boosting both print and internet circulation in order to impress online advertisers.

Personally I think we need a machine that not only recycles paper, but recycles ink as well. Or at least invests the recycled paper with some kind of chemical additive that, with the proper light beamed on it from the printer, will duplicate slick magazine inks. That way we can all print quality magazines from home.

kev

Carol H. said...

I don't like reading magazines on the computer. I like being able to take it with me anywhere, I like the physicality of flipping through the pages, sometimes I cut pictures out to make private collages or experiment with compositions.

There is a whole tactile world out there that is becoming obsolete as more and more things become virtual or digitized. I really miss that.

r8r said...

Remember when they said that this new-fangled photography meant that painting was over?

Lithography didn't kill engraving, but engraving became an artistic specialty.

so, if the past is any guide, I'd say that printing won't go away, but become more and more specialized, and even valued for its rarily.

i, me said...

Christian science monitor already has gone completely digital.

i agree with the gist of other posters here - ESPECIALLY with visual magazines like national geo or Smithsonian. I like print much better - i think online sites can become compliments to magazine - and maybe have a print, print web, web only option + free content

Side note: I think that paintings even have something over photos of the same painting. when there is a painting in the room vs. a picture of it, even if the same size, there is something "living' about the painting..its hard to explain..

Don Cox said...

"when there is a painting in the room vs. a picture of it, even if the same size, there is something "living' about the painting..its hard to explain.."

The light does things in the multiple layers of a real painting which cannot be exactly reproduced. Also, real paintings use more than three colours (usually), including earth pigments - the exact spectrum curves of all these pigments cannot be exactly repoduced in CMYK.

And most paintings have real 3D surface texture.

Random York said...

I like to hold a real paper magazine... they even smell good. I am suspicious of all the companies using the "Green" explanation. It's like: "In onder to help the environment we are going to give you much less for the same great price!" - and it's always printed in green ink.

Andrew Wales said...

I agree with Carol and others who mentioned the tactile experience of reading. I think many people will always want that. I applaud the efforts to care for the environment, however. Magazines seem to be folding left and right, though, including Nickelodeon and Shojo Beat, which my kids enjoyed.

i, me said...

I don't know if the ad driven model is best though. Like cheap food which is not nutritious, the magazines is driven by consumerism to the point where large issues are avoided. When have we ever seen main stream media for example, really really go after pharmaceuticals, and alcohol makers -they went after cigarette makers when, of course, cigarette ads were banned.

I also think that main stream big media - has become so pc-driven I find it difficult to take seriously. i canceled my national geographic subscription because its 'stories' were just that, totally out of touch with the reality of places and a refusal to engage in truthful reporting.

on another note, I think rupbert murduck claimed that all his publications were going to be subscription only by next year or so (including the london times, wall street journal)
We'll see how that goes.

Jon Hrubesch said...

I think it is inevitable that eventually all newspapers, magazines, books and even money will become digital. There are just going to be too many people in the world as the population grows. And if we become a space-fairing society in a thousand years then paper will be out of the question. I think we are just getting a taste of what's to come.

woos said...

NO WAY!! I *heart* paper... Can't imagine things going totally digital. I believe we are clever enough to come up with some better recycling/ production techniques to keep printing on paper (or some sort of material) a viable option.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

I can't read anything longer than a short blog post online. But put some writing on paper - and I could read Tolstoy.

A magazine, I can put by my bedside for middle-of-the-night reading without waiting for the laptop to boot up. A magazine, I can roll it up and swat a mosquito. A magazine, I can stuff in a coat pocket and go for a walk in the rain. A magazine, I can start a fire with. A magazine - well, you get the point.

Sasha R. Jones (Saelyra) said...

I wouldn't mind it. I mean, you never have to worry about a digital version taking up space- no debate about 'Ive read this thing, is it worth hanging on to or is it cage liner time?'

Ive never been big on magazines, though, if I'm going to be out somewhere that I don't have access to digital means then I'd rather just take a book.

mike weaver said...

I have just bought a Kindle and downloaded the COMPLETE works of :
Robert Louis Stevenson
Edgar Allan Poe
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Edgar Rice Burrows
Andrew Lang
Charles Dickens
Jules Verne
H.G. Wells

All for about 30 dollars! (not including the price of the Kindle).
When it comes to art, I want to see a hard copy, but for text, digital has been a revelation for me.

Meredith D. said...

Alas, the evidence for the demise of magazines is plenty: Mad Magazine switched to quarterly, Nickelodeon Magazine is cancelled, and many others have switched formats, reduced printing, or stopped printing altogether.

It's too bad. I like real magazines also, mostly for in-depth reading though, I get my news (the most timely info) on the internet.

Gregory Becker said...

I hate this whole going green thing.
The planet isn't in danger!
What if all of the art supply stores suddenly decided to not sell art materials but rather give you a discounted computer program that allows you to still paint.
It makes you feel like you're being tolerated for the sake of your spending. We are humored with unneccesary alternatives.
I think they to invest back into the America that made them wealthy in the first place.
I'm speaking generally of course.
I cant even get a half gallon of ice cream anymore. ( 1.75 qrts)
What one does the other does. forward the cost to the consumer and take no loss.
We'll be harvesting our own pigments and oils and supports in 10 yrs.
It angers me to no end.
This country more than ever needs ART!

sfox said...

I'm in. I'm switching to digital versions of publications when they become available.

I emailed TIME and The Atlantic some years ago, asking if I could subscribe but only get the online version. Both replied that there was no way to do that. Sigh.

Using resources and energy to print and deliver something as ephemeral as a magazine is not sustainable.

People, especially the mainstream news media, are confusing the delivery system with the content.

I email media links and post them on Facebook to share all the time. And check out other people's links also. Can't do that with a "stand alone" paper publication.

We lived for a couple of years in a place where we couldn't get a paper newspaper, so we started to read the local rag and the SF Chronicle online. We've never gone back to paper and don't miss it a bit.

We digitized over 700 music CDs year before last. Downloads only from now on, except for specialty things like Mongolian pop music and then only so I can get them onto my iPhone and iMac.

We get movies via our Roku box. No trips to the video store or dealing with damaged disks from Netflix.

The world is going digital and I have no problem with that even though I paint traditionally in oil.

Don Cox said...

Jim Vadeboncoeur's art magazine "Images" is printed with no adverts. It costs about three times as much as an ordinary magazine. Almost all the cost of getting a Smithsonian or Nat Geog magazine to you is paid by the advertisers.

If these dry up, the magazine has to either double or treble its price, or go on-line only.

Online may be OK when screens have 600 dpi resolution. Even then, it requires an expensive device and power.

As for downloading classic literature for "only $30", you can get all those free from Gutenburg. You bin robbed.

Don Cox said...

"We digitized over 700 music CDs year before last. "

CDs are digital already. Do you mean you reduced the audio quality from CD-quality to MP3? Maybe you can't hear the difference.

DVDs are digital too.

Joe Jusko said...

I like holding a magazine in my hands. It's portable and the picture quality is (I think) better than a screen image, which also destroys my eyes after a short while. From the artist's POV, at this very moment I have about 200 magazines that need a razor taken to them. I've been slicing up magazines for my reference files for 30 years. Instead of scouring the internet for the same reference EVERYONE has access to, one pass through my files and I can find shots thast I cut out 25 years ago that I could never find online. Call me old fashioned but I like holding a tearsheet rather than looking up at a screen.

J Gilpin said...

I don't think there are increased costs for printing - unless so many people stop producing that it runs printers out of business. From what I have heard from local sources as of the end of last year or start of this year: costs for printing a magazine went down. I guess due to a decline in business. Supply and demand.

Digital editions are not a comparable product to print in my mind. I spend enough time in front of a display screen. I find extended reading, such as a magazine or novel unpleasant on a CRT or LCD.

I hope newspaper readers will wake up and realize that the "free" revolution will only last long enough to kill the newsprint version. After that they will be paying (Rupert Murdock is no fool).