Posted on March 12, 2014 in Archive

Please stop obsessing with platforms

12Mar

Since the dawn of the tablet-and-mobile-platform era, critics and so-called well informed individuals have been crying out that digital will inevitably take over the print world. But just like the infamous Video v. Radio, I don’t think that digital has delivered a knockout punch to it’s predecessor just yet. 

There are always early adopters who jump on bandwagons when a new platform becomes available. I do not blame them for being blinded by new potential; that happens to everyone. But in the publishing world, it’s clear that over the last few years we’ve been stuck in a ‘ebook or print book’, ‘online store or physical shop’, ‘traditional or independent publisher’ cyclone that has yet to die down. Even I find myself guilty of this, looking back at previous blogs.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an article called “Publishing crosses the digital divide”, which showcases some signs that print publications, specifically magazines, are not done and dusted. For example – although American political magazine Politico maintains a blog, website and digital publication, in January it was announced that they had made plans to release 6 print editions of the magazine per year, starting this month. This was one of the main discussion points of the article, but neglected to mention the fact that Politico.com is already in the print game – the Politico newspaper is available for free throughout Washington, and is available through subscription. So surely if they already put print out that presumably complements their website (and vice versa), releasing a magazine isn’t that big a deal – they are simply expanding their brand.

Not every story has the capacity to be a ‘Snowfall’ (a story laden with multimedia and whizzy-dizzy features), and if Politico can afford to print and profit off of a print magazine, why not? Sometimes more impact and gravitas can be conveyed through plain old black and white text. That’s not to say that ‘Snowfall’ is over the top – it’s fantastic journalism, but a profile article about a Congress candidate might not easily lend itself to graphs, sound clips and graphics.

Apparently, some people seem to think that printing a glossy issue 6 times a year is just a marketing exercise, or something for collectors to fan out attractively on their coffee tables. But then, how does that account for the fact that Newsweek is coming back to print, after over a year of a digital-only presence? Admittedly, it is reformatting itself to what will hopefully be a more successful model, but that kind of move indicates that there is still some existing market out there for printed magazines.

The SMH article quoted Eric Beecher, the CEO of Private Media (possibly the worst name I have ever heard for a media group, but whom nonetheless owns publications like Crikey), as saying that print is becoming “the exclusive domain of ageing readers and tiny residual niches of advertisers”. Forgive me, but the way that’s phrased, it almost sounds like a bad thing. Don’t older generations need reading material too? If it’s a viable option, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to take advantage of more readers and more income. Maybe there’s other reasonings behind his opinion that I’m not aware of – I’m not a business student, after all.

To look at an angle mentioned at the beginning of this blog, there are some publications who believe that print publications have no place anywhere, anymore – not even in newsagents (gasp!). Issimo is currently on it’s third issue, and has vowed to never go print on account of it being too “one dimensional”. While it’s true that the world is bigger now than the written word printed on a page, again, I say – sometimes that’s all you need. Adding bells and whistles to something that doesn’t need it is just indulgent.

So if there is still a demand for print publications, however aged and decrepit the readers might be (which I say in jest, of course), why would you turn your back on that market? Maybe in 30+ years when that generation has passed then it might be reasonable to say “burn down the newsagents and printing presses”, but not now. The clear (and somewhat obvious answer, if you ask me) answer to these conflicting opinions is: do both. Cross-platform publishing means that everyone can get their hands on the content they desire, whether it be on your smartphone, your laptop or etched onto a really big stone.

Perhaps if some of these publishers stopped competing with each other on just one platform, and focussed on quality content production across multiple platforms that they can make work, maybe the industry today would be a very different place. Just like websites used to complement a print magazine, print magazines can now help market their mother websites.