IS PRINT STILL DEAD?

“News stands will look extremely different in 10 years time. Hopefully, I’ll still be writing for something on them,” he laughs, if not with a little fear, before hotfooting it back to his London desk.

“PRINT IS DEAD!” Said Newsweek, Time, Jeff Gomez, George Brock, and others.

More and more, the online world is home to blogs, indie publishers, magazine collectives.

And why not? Platforms that are accessible, no-cost to start up and democratic (at least to the point of a chance at organic fame or, if you’ve the investors, buzz fame) – you’d think any smart-thinking millenial would scupper anything that looked like tree-death or needless expense. On the other hand, recycled paper is a thing, and a ready material to use for any budding zine maker.

zines

UK papers might be diminishing, but there are hobbyists and newbies who encourage  DIY values and alternative, independent distribution. There are also printing companies who encourage bulk buyers with the big print runs to give up suspended/down time at low prices. For example, if tomorrow’s paper is going to get printed at 1am, then there’s higher labour costs, health and safety monitoring for late-night workers and emergency ink runs when supplies get low which inevitably, a large paper of 500,000 copies upwards is expected to pay for. However, if you’re a small publisher who needs a 200 copies of a weekly ready for Thursday afternoon; if you’re a zine (read: punk magazine with strong do-it-yourself ethics, and a taste for the unique, the grotesque and the leftfield in writing and reportage): you’d would need a significantly lower amount of capital. 

With mainstream magazine titles in the UK like Now Then, Starburst and a huge variety of feminist zines bucking the trend – is there a fightback in the publishing world?

Argument A) Print Is Not Dead – It’s Alive, and It’s Underground

Sophie is an international student who writes under pseudonyms for Zines across the UK, the US and France. She first got into zines when she joined the Woman’s Society at Swansea University. She’s just turned 20 and for the last year, she swears she’s avoided the things the rest of us seem to fall into reading most days – BBC News, Yahoo News, The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Glamour Magazine, Ask Men etc…

“Yeah. Well, I avoid online reads like the plague. A lot of it’s syndicated, the  pieces with the same questions like ‘how to lose five pounds of belly fat’ or  c**p that’s already in [the] Daily Mail. There’s a lot of stuff with no author but  a stranger paid to write SEO copy. It takes work and search time to look for writers and bloggers when it’s like everyone has an axe to get grinding…zines are just easier.”

I ask her if zines really are easier for the majority of society – or would they have to seek them out like she does?

“Well, it is easier for me because I am in the woman’s society here, and these are the things that we read.  I also write for them because I want to actively write and it is my amusement and I can belong and be a part of a small group here. Online, you can talk in the forum, but it’s anonymous, I can’t touch what people write.”

Sophie’s own words about this touching: in an online world, we are all playing a game where we project an avatar and win approval from others, be they retweets, gold stars, likes…

“I guess online content is just easy when you’re already online, but if you’re really looking, the independent stuff often leads to these zines you can buy or download to read from a piece of paper.”

Sophie makes an interesting point: ‘online reads’ are what we do almost absent-mindedly when an idea pops into our heads and Google does the questioning for us; or when we’re following someone’s link. A lot of our ‘online reads’ are completely arbitrary, but every minute we spend online is time and footfall taken away from stores and news shelves in shops.

“In France, newspaper culture is traditional, and you will see people with Le Monde on the train with the big pages, knocking someone’s café over onto their legs! Even though the next minute they pull out a smartphone that could have the paper on there too. There’s something romantic about writing that you can hold and bring close to your eyes. With a tablet, you would probably damage your eyes.”

With the best will in the world, Sophie admits to being romantic and suggests that print is part of a cultural paradigm when she’s home: to have a newspaper is to be complicit with codes of status, reading ability, the size of the paper and the kind of career you probably have for reading said paper. A tablet might be more discreet, but the reader can’t project the same social signs.

“It’s not that print is better, it’s just that – there’s something comforting about the information being in front of you, on paper – for you to own and to read. No-one can take a newspaper ‘down’ like a website.”

I had a chat to a graphic designer called Mark, based in Cheshire. He’s worked for some huge companies, including IPC Media who print a lot of the world’s best-loved magazines like Marie Claire and Wallpaper* to name a couple. As someone who is generally outsourced by the print industry, can Mark shed a little light on the matter?

marieclaire

Mark’s ambivalent when he emails back. “Print is my forte. I learned old school, and I still do screen-printing as  a hobby and with my children at the weekends.  Printing is an art – and print media is the tangible product of that. That’s not to say that online media is not: it’s an incredible part of the industry that has yet to grow properly. We’re getting there though: but I am confident that the amount of bad content and bad writing out there means people will default to print because they can trust it – they can touch it, smell it, understand what it’s made from. People still play board games for leisure – and I think that’s how we’ll treat print in the future. The things we use daily are what’s transferring to our ever increasingly digital lives.  Just recently I got to work with EA on some motion graphics for their mobile platform which is growing rapidly.

“I think print will survive, but it will be a hobbyist’s thing. Print is alive, and it’ll be underground. In the same way I can go to the craft shop and buy materials for screen printing and stamping and such with the kids, soon we’ll have to use specialist shops for printed editions of the magazines we love. So no, I do not think it is dead – but with newspapers, I’m not sure. Not so sure for them.”

As the advertising model throttles ahead, leaving behind the slapdash projected readership figures in favour of tailored, subscription models which supply precious, delicious personal data about customers… will the second decade of the new millennium be remembered as print’s death rattle, or are we seeing a rebirth or co-option of print culture?

Argument B) Print Is Dead – Just Look at the Big Players

International titles such as The Washington Post getting bought by non-newspaper moguls, and the fact that as of today, the most powerful publication online is actually a blog (owned by AOL) which called itself a ‘Post’ – The Huffington Post, no less, taking the very idea of the newspaper format itself as merely a branding tool. Huffington isn’t a place, an idea, a ‘sun’ or a representation of the daily passing of time – it is named after the original blog creator, Arianna Huffington, the super-coiffed maven queen of internet column writing. With what Susan Cain has dubbed the Culture of Personality – there’s a large trend in the blogging world for writers to push themselves.

Arianna’s net worth two years ago, without the cash gained from the merger with AOL after the sale was $115 million. Not bad, for a blogger where typically one banner ad will make the semi-pro blogger between $6 and $23 per month.

What about the Conde Nasts and Hachettes of this world? Is their online presence as good as their print & ink? Bloomberg handily kept this snippet from their newswire admitting what we all know is true: the advertising model for print has to change if the industry is to grow any further in a world where tablets proliferate and bag design goes tiny. News, features and even opinion pieces can be delivered to-the-second, with consumers migrating online constantly in order to receive ‘free’ content. Interestingly, of the print markets that remain, the strongest sales are experienced by publishers in Europe and the global magazine publishing industry is anticipated to reach $106.9 billion by 2018.

That’s a lot of money. Although, in terms of growth, it’s super slow. Take Hearst’s pre-tax report from this year, tripling profits thanks to its investment in digital content.

Is print the last wheeze of a bloated media world?

Alice, a freelance fashion writer regularly picked for for titles at Hearst and Conde Nast in the UK says she’s not confident about print surviving the next ten years.

tatler

“The majority of the jobs I get now are for online pieces,” she says.  “My blog, portfolio… all my work is on the web. I have had some of the more typical pieces for some of the bigger titles – Top Ten Ways to Do This or collating information for the ‘real life’ articles – but these printed articles are really few and far between, and most mags have staff writers in-house for them.

“Print is definitely dead, but I would never say that to the people I work for! But it’s true. Barely anything I have is in print, except maybe my own dusty old magazines and articles I wrote when I was a kid,” she laughs.

“Print isn’t dying because it’s poor quality. People still like flicking through a magazine, even smelling the glossy paper. Print is dying because people don’t want to carry things around, throw things away or pay for ad paper.”

Perhaps that’s it: people don’t want to pay the three quid for what is essentially 100 pages of ads when they can just ignore them on the margins of a web page. But wait – could the lack of advertising be why zine prints and arts/specialist/luxury titles make their buck when the rest of the industry looks to ignores paper and ink to essentially triple their profits? I asked Alice what she thinks about publishing in general – books as well as magazines.

“I don’t want to admit it because by rights I’m a bookworm or at least a magazine worm, but… print is dying. There will always be amateurish magazines printed across the world but, if you’re going beyond being a hobby, you have to know that your bread and butter is not print anymore. It’s online. All of it. I think that we live in a very exciting time where information can be cheap and permanent, so magazines and books are. All the writers I know, anyway, use Amazon Cloud and; well, I did just buy the latest Adele Parks for the Kindle app on my iPad. I can’t be a vangard for alternative print. Life is so fast and tablets [tablet PCs] are easier.”

It was an interesting discussion; with Alice’s own lifestyle following that of what her publishers are asking her own audiences to do with their content. The sentiment from the other writers seemed the same – or at least, for the non-fiction authors I quizzed about this.

nicki-minaj-by-matt-irwin-for-wonderland-magazine-february-march-2012

A senior newspaper journalist who works for one of the tabloids (and doesn’t want to be named) is actively seeking online work at an agency alongside online feature projects to pay his increasing bills.

eveningstandard2009

“Where I work, there’s limited vision, but they’ve recently upped their game with branded video reportage. Saying that, it is all traditional, ad-supported online nonsense which doesn’t earn that much money at the end of the day. You can get the kind of news I write anywhere, anytime as long as your phone is half-decent you get it from any outlet: US, UK, Russia Today… There’s no insurance for the printing press in this age without selling  the f**k out.”

I ask him what he means: there’s a burgeoning print audience out there – is this more to do with national or global coverage? Is selling out when you become a commuter rag, with every page sponsored?

“The locals that died over the last five years did that and didn’t survive. The only one that does is on every train, bus and offie [sic: off license] in the country. Look at the Metro – it’s trollop, utter tripe, most of it adverts and most of it’s watered down from a better [news]wire, and they just rewrite it with its own SEO rules – SEO for news, for God’s sake!” he says, exacerbated. “Maybe it’s not so much that print is dying, but the journalist is. A journalist needs to be much more careful in this day and age, with everything you write and comment on being monitored. I don’t believe it is how it used to be.

“You’re half writing for Ogilvy (an advertising agency which in the first half of the 20th Century, was famous for verbose advertorials in magazines and newspapers), half swallowing a press release about someone’s rescued Hungarian dog or whatever…I don’t know. Print is concrete, safe – and not as easily muted. But libraries are closing. Online, the servers and space grows by the minute and yet, it’s too easy to delete something online. Perhaps that is why it’s dying,” he says, before hurriedly munching the rest of the shortbread and washing it down with a still-boiling Americano.

“News stands will look extremely different in 10 years time. Hopefully, I’ll still be writing for something on them,” he laughs, if not with a little fear, before hotfooting it back to his London desk.

TAKING ON THE MAXIM: PRINT IS DEAD. IS IT?

Legging it back to the Northern Line myself, I wonder if the demand for online content will make for a better environment, pushing for more original content and authentication? Without the fear or cynicism that might be implied above, I agreed, and started up a social-media-only magazine as a native of an expanding digital culture that incorporated:

  1.  The millenials’ habit of posing everything, EVERYTHING online
  2.  The abundance of creatives worldwide needing an impartial, new platform that was published in English and available for free
  3.  Social Media’s emerging importance as a PR tool in 2009 and 2010 as being the primary source of viral and ultra-popular, disposable culture

Which was a brilliant idea at the time – but immensely difficult to market alone. I drafted in favours and verbal investments – or rather, social media favours and return-promotion to get those hits and conversions which at 40,000, reached it’s peak and hit hiatus at the perfect time. However, what this experience taught me, at least, is that not so much is print dead, but the internet is a huge, level-playing field but it seems like all the same real-world rules apply if you want to succeed. But then again – it all depends on the level of success you want. For a large readership you need money, you need marketing, you need sales pitches and behind all this sheen, original content, which is always how the print world has worked.

To make a ‘zine, you just make one – you don’t have to be established like you do if you’re pitching to a large magazine or newspaper. To make an online magazine – you just make one. You don’t need to be established.

NOT DEAD: JUST DIFFERENT – FOR NOW

Lauren is a Scottish-born zine writer and die-hard fan who currently resides in London. Her boyfriend is about to pitch a piece to an online zine for UK football club Crystal Palace, the ‘Five Year Plan Fanzine’. Lauren slices her muffin with the salad knife.

“Their idea of success is 100,000 readers. For me, when I print my zine, I want 100 people to read it every quarter. When I buy a fanzine, I don’t think at all whether ‘print is dead’ or not. I think: I am a part of a select culture and community who support new ideas, real original work. I’m someone who reads and writes the articles that get censored elsewhere.

feminist zine tales

“Look, I’m not gonna find tales about alternative political systems or the joy of menstruation or accounts of slam poetry in Cosmopolitan am I? Print is very much alive and will be, at least, for now – just not in the ways we thought 10 years ago.”

Print isn’t dead – it just got diverse, varied, multichannel  – it’s downsized and it’s dealing with a larger and yet, paradoxically by having its attention split several ways, a smaller audience who focus for a shorter amount of time. That’s why browsers and tablets are perfect printless machines: we are invited to search and indulge any tangent we wish in order to create a broader media experience. Brand loyalty is pretty much dead, in that sense – but people will always pay attention to something they already agree with, or something which, by reading, makes them cool in the eyes of their peers, de facto.

When I was a kid, I used to feel I was leading a double life because on the surface, I’d be buying Sugar Magazine like all the other girls when really, I was reading Techno Quest and old copies of National Geographic from the garden shed. My Dad said to all this: ‘It takes all kinds to make this world.”

Before Lauren left for the bus, she did say one thing.

“Weirdly, printing something yourself feels more free than publishing online. Like, there’s already rules for printing online.

“I wish it was easier to stay with paper and ink but I do feel guilty about the paper – what am I going to do with it all in the end?”

Maybe, that’s exactly where our old print will be: in the sheds in gardens and yards while the news stand looks more like a plastic bar of QR codes.

Advertisements

One response to “IS PRINT STILL DEAD?

  1. Pingback: RETRO MAGAZINE Smashes Kickstarter Goal | SPEECHMARKS·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s