Print is Dead; Long Live Print!

“Print is dead; if they want to stay alive, magazines must go digital.” So goes the conventional wisdom. Indeed, printing and mailing full-color, glossy magazines is an expensive proposition, and ad revenues (which fund the printing and mailing) have been dropping like stones for years now. So, harkened by the rise in tablet and e-reader sales, the savvy magazine publisher would do well to move to digital, right?

Except it isn’t right, apparently. This GigaOm piece says it all: “Why Tablet Magazines are a Failure.” Writer John Lund places the blame on a number of factors, but the bedrock fact remains that digital magazines subscriptions just don’t sell. And the ones that do sell don’t get read.

In fact, some digital publications are moving…to print. As Matt Pearce of the LA Times writes, “Where the Web is open-ended and interactive, print is closed and more authoritative, like a street that goes only one way. The Web is timelier, but paper lasts longer than browser tabs.” Pearce quotes Chris Frey, 43, “editor in chief of Hazlitt, a literary site created by Random House Canada that published its debut print edition last month.” Frey “uses words like ‘intimacy,’ ‘permanence’ and ‘presence’ to describe reading a magazine or printed book.”

Frey continues: “Within a Web environment, we’re often more prone to distraction and skimming rather than deep reading, … The Web is an immensely powerful tool for connecting writers with readers far and wide in the present moment. But it can lack intimacy.”

It feels good to be vindicated. I have nothing against reading things digitally – I have a virtual bookshelf packed with interesting, engaging websites I visit, and read, frequently. But nothing can replace the experience of reading a real book or magazine for me. I only hope their business model can adapt to this new economy, because extinction is forever.

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