DISCUSS: Print publishing can survive the digital age

DISCUSS: Print publishing can survive the digital age

By James Wright 16/07/13

DISCUSS is a series in which IdeasTap members debate issues around the arts. The death of print has been greatly exaggerated, says James Wright, who is the Editor and Creative Director of So it Goes magazine. Here he explains why he created a print publication in the middle of a magazine crisis…

They’ll ask hesitantly, almost embarrassed, but they’ll always ask.

I’ll draw breath after having given my sales patter about why we started our small arts and culture publication (words that have become embedded into the depths of my psyche), but the words, “Isn’t it a risk starting a print magazine in the current climate?” are unfailingly uttered.

You can’t really blame them. Sales of print publications have been nose-diving for years. Confronted with dwindling circulation figures, editors shamelessly buffer their readership statistics in a careful exercise of smoke, mirrors and Machiavellian spin in order to save face with advertisers.

It’s no wonder prospective ad-sales teams stop us mid-sentence when we tell them we don’t have a digital offering yet. The look is a mixture of horror and bewilderment as the battle-hardened salesmen go on to explain why periodicals like Easy Living and Arena shuttered, why fashion bible i-Dhad to be bought by the multi-tentacled Vice empire, and why broadsheet newspapers around the world are desperately scrambling to monetise their online offering in an effort to compete with social media and the proliferation of sites providing free and accessible news coverage. And yet, not a week goes by without a new, independent magazine surfacing on the bookstands of Magma or Artwords. Why?

In a world where MP3 is king, there are still small, flourishing companies specialising in vinyl; Kindle and e-readers may have an increasingly iron-like grip on the market, but can we ever really imagine a world without books? Netflix provides a fantastic outlet for original and intelligent programming shunned by the major networks, or for filmmakers whose work was not granted a theatrical release, but would we ever truly want a world without the shared, immersive experience of sitting in a darkened cinema?

We started So it Goes magazine because we still believed in the permanence and physicality of the printed page. From the beginning, we wanted to bring about a return to long-form journalism. Whatever the current predilection for throwaway, bite-size commentary, we knew there was still an appetite for well-written pieces that were given the freedom to cut to the heart of an issue or story.

While guided by literary principles, we were always conscious about not making the magazine a dense, impenetrable tome. Our goal was to provide our readers with content that was intelligent but not alienating, so we structured the magazine across seven “chapters”. These would address film, music, art, travel, fashion and current affairs – a cross-cultural magazine with something for everyone. Above all it was something tangible for people to hold and to smell, to keep on their bookshelves, to revisit for years to come.

The reading brain in the digital age is a funny thing. Those of you reading this article will no doubt have a dozen-plus tabs open on your browser. Spotify will be playing in the background and if you’re anything like me, you may have “hot corners” enabled on your Mac– a flick of this wrist separating all your open windows to give a Minority Reportstyle overview of the vast swathes of information, programs and data scurrying across your dashboard. Yet, amid all of that, here you are reading an article about why print is still relevant in the digital age. That’s got to count for something.

 

What do you think – can print survive the digital age? Let us know, below!

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Image by slorp, on a Creative Commons license.

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