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December 8, 2010 / Amy Bradney-George

“Print is dead”

The "Magazines - The Power of Print" ad that inspired this post.


That’s what I heard two years ago at a conference about the future of journalism: “Print is dead”. But the crowd of journalists, bloggers and various other media types there were still discussing it. And still are.

In response to my last post k-hodd – a real life friend and fellow media type – wrote the following:

“…the times is starting to wind down the printing of their magazine, prefering to use internet and phone apps to deliver news… it won’t be too long until all the others follow…”

Is that true?

Not according to The Association of Magazine Media, which launched an ad campaign in March 2010 entitled “Magazines – The Power of Print”. I came across one of their ads while enjoying a magazine one Sunday morning.

“Will the internet kill magazines?” it read, catching my eye in a way many of the fashion and make up ads on surrounding pages did not.

“Did instant coffee kill coffee?” Was the next question, and I laughed as I read it, almost spilling my coffee onto the page.

It got my attention, so much so that I went online and looked at the campaign website for some more information. The facts section has some interesting information about the state of magazines at the moment, including information about the growth of magazine readership over the past five years, the increase in subscriptions and research suggesting it is “the number one medium of engagement”.

I know facts can be skewed any way you like, but these ones put up a good argument for the thriving nature of magazines. And, thinking about it, I realise I fit into these statistics. I started regularly reading magazines when I was in my early teens, stopped after high school, then picked it up again at the start of 2008. What is it about them that’s so compelling?

The thing that stands out to me is the features. Sure, you can see pictures or read Q&A type interviews online (or video interviews), but feature articles? Well, like many other things on the internet, they are out there, but I wouldn’t read half of the things I do if it was exclusively online. A 2000 word article on someone’s travel experiences? Or a political figures life before power? I can just imagine the ads flashing along, the annoying scrolling or the links to further pages. No thanks.

For years now people have considered internet use to be linked with short attention spans, with research and analysis which has been overwhelmingly pointing in that direction for years now. My friends in the web series community often discuss the “ideal” length for an episode, often with answers ranging from 2 minutes to 10 minutes.

Could you read anything substantial in that time? Maybe, but whether I would is another question. To hark back to the Times, I did read this article about Bill Wasik’s thoughts and findings on internet fads (published in the book And Then There’s This). I did not, however, bother with Boston Globe’s provokatively entitled piece “Too much surfing online shortens attention span”, partly because I would have had to pay to subscribe, and partly because I would have had to take time to subscribe.

Doesn’t this information suggest that online and print mediums are different creatures? And that, while closely related, they may have different functions and purposes?

I don’t think print is dead. I still love newspapers, and the fact that it took two weeks for two online journalists here in Canada to correct an interesting human interest piece on the news site they wrote for (where corrections would have been printed no later than a week after), just makes me love them more.

People in print feel the need to take more care with their work – once it’s sent it’s done. I suspect some people working online feel that they have to be quick, and get things out there immediately, which can lead to a work-in-progress mentality that I see on news sites across the board (even the best in Australia).

Don’t these changes suggest that there is more to this than a simple statement that print is dead? Did video kill radio? Did movies kill the theatre? Is anything that ingrained in our culture ever really going to die?

I don’t know for sure, but I would say that Darwin’s scientific theories can be applied – it’s survival of the fittest these days, and evolution is the main alternative to extinction. If print can evolve (and embrace features), then it’s not going anywhere.


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