Print is alive

Bookshelves

I had dreams of working in the publishing industry and it turned out to be different from how I imagined it.

From 2007 to 2018 I worked in b2b publishing, at a company that used to publish over 100 magazines. It was a chaotic time for print media.

‘Print is dead!’ everyone said.

The writing was on the wall. People were buying magazines less and advertisers knew it. So magazines were sold or shut, or their content became digital (we called it innovation). If you were perceived as a ‘print person’, it was a sure sign that you would soon be receiving your P45.

My favourite projects were with New Scientist. As a print magazine that readers still paid good money for each week, it was an anomaly. I worked with the team to test cover designs and to encourage more women to read about science.

I often interviewed readers about why they bought the magazine. The best response:

It’s not New Scientist I’m buying, it’s the hour of relaxation on the train home.
Like this reader, I knew what print did for me. It delivered experiences:
  • It wasn’t Just Seventeen, Mizz and Sugar magazines on which I spent my pocket money. It was the voice of a wise best friend during those awkward teenage years.
  • It wasn’t the NME on which I spent my Pizza Hut tips. It was the instant cool and insider knowledge of the next Manic Street Preachers gig.
  • It wasn’t the Sunday papers on which I spent a few spare quid from my first proper job. It was those lazy hours in bed where I could forget about work, alarms and stress.

Print delivered the goods. I credit my local library as being the place I got my education. I would take 6 library books on family holidays so that I could slip into my own world. They were my get-out-of-jail-free card from insufferable activities like the Kid’s Club.

I only got bored with magazines and books when studying English at uni. Being forced to read Beowulf will do that to you. It made a chore out of a joy and in my permanently hungover state, I couldn’t stay awake when I read. Things didn’t improve until after graduation.

The digital zeitgeist engulfed me and I was right in the middle working in User Experience. Now was not the time to be a ‘print person’. I browsed the Apple newsstand on my iPad, trying digital editions of newspapers. It was frustrating. I thought about the digital subscription models and ways to improve the interaction. But I didn’t enjoy reading.

I got a Kindle. It was a novelty at first not to carry those 6 books around. But I couldn’t see the cover art in full colour glory. I couldn’t feel the weight of the book. And worst of all, I kept giving up on the stories. My imagination stalled.

Print came back into my life in interesting ways. At work I got a ‘Little Printer’. An experimental web-enabled device which printed tweets, quotes or the weather forecast. It changed its appearance, sometimes acquiring sunglasses or a hat. I loved it. My desk was covered in printouts.

Little Printer

A digital agency sent a printed quarterly magazine. They identified that we potential clients were drowning in email and print was now a novelty. It was something to peruse over lunch. It got our attention and kept them top of mind.

Nowadays I buy magazines and books again. Or rather I buy the experiences they offer, such as the potential to focus on a story and not stare at a screen. To read whenever, wherever, unplugged. I appreciate the time and effort of the craft of writing. If someone I admire is writing a book, I’m paying for it. I don’t want writing to be the preserve of those who are wealthy by other means. We’ve come too far for that.

I recently heard about a magazine called Delayed Gratification, based on the theory of slow journalism. The rest of the media scrambles to be first to the news (and a Twitter user beats them to it anyway). But this publication is different. It revisits stories three months later and looks at them from different angles. There are striking cover designs and graphics. It could be the new print, but print never went away.

Because I know for sure now.

Print is alive.

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