The future of print is in your hands

I read magazines like millions of other young women and men. They’re a thing of beauty really: Its the smell of freshly-printed pages, the bouncy sound the paper makes as the page curves over, and that moment of uncertainty where you don’t know what might be revealed after the next page turn. Having that glossy and tangible substance in my hands reminds me to escape from cyber world for a while, and to enjoy it’s pragmatic allure and allow my eyes to fully interpret every word on the page.

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I was surprised by the air of uncertainty on the content stage of the last Web Summit as leading industry professionals from The Guardian, GQ, Forbes, CNN, The New York Times and Vogue, delivered arguments on the ageing debate surrounding the future of print.

The process of storytelling is a necessity that makes modern communication possible, and is the backbone of good journalism. Once considered as a sacred and intimate activity by word of mouth, storytelling has lead the way for what we consider to be modern ‘news’, and has subsequently undergone enormous change in its lifetime.

Advances in tech have allowed for storytelling to be developed into print, audio and broadcasting; eventually becoming virtual. The rise of the World Wide Web has undoubtedly altered how we receive, digest and react to news in a constant 24hour cycle. Not only is it economically viable in terms material use, but it is instant. Remember that not too long ago, the only way to receive breaking news was at the 6 o’clock bulletin or the morning papers – even though the ‘news’ may have happened 12 hours previously. Are newspapers and magazines following the footsteps of the music industry?

Tanya Cordrey – chief digital officer at The Guardian – began the conversation with the notion that print is undoubtedly in decline, but that there is a distinct magic still associated with it:

“It is a fast death for few and slow death for many. Revenues for print are under threat. It’s about finding the right medium for the right story. But there is an emotional side involved in print that cannot be justified by ‘the digital experience’. Digital products have yet to crack the potency of having an actual physical magazine”.

Wil Harris of Conde Naste Publications – who produce GQ, Elle and Vogue – and Eric Schurenberg of Inc.com disagreed with Cordrey’s notion however, and agreed that print was, in fact, safe. Schurenberg highlighted how there is still an elite stance in seeing yourself in a magazine, and that this is an issue that the web still has to capture.

“With print, you’re committing to the notion that the group of editors have knowledge that you don’t have, and you trust them to deliver stories you want to know. When you open a magazine in a public place, the cover and title is evident and can reveal a lot about the individual. People make judgements on your choice of publication. Brand power is something that magazines have as opposed to seeing the back of someone’s head at a computer screen”, said Schurenberg.

Similarly, Wil Harris confirmed that print has a really strong future at Conde Nast, and that the circulation of Vogue has been constant in the last five years. Harris pointed out that advocates of high-end publications like Vogue are not going to stop buying the magazine, but people who buy magazines casually are more likely to view online content instead.

This poses the question to the different types of content created for online and print: online content tends to be short and to the point, often disregarding long pieces of excellent journalism. Does print content give the same impression online? Is there room for long-form pieces of good journalism in the digital age? Addressing the matter, Harris stated that people react and engage differently to online-specific content.

“I think digital is the ultimate serendipity platform. You buy magazines for the certainty: you know what’s in the magazine before you buy it – whereas online you don’t necessarily know what you’ll see”, he said.

Schurenberg believes that the medium dictates the content, but good journalism really shows in print. Inc.com produce 60 stories a day online, but only 40 stories per issue (Inc.com produce 10 issues per annum), which means the stories have to be of a high standard and quality.

“Is it economical to spend $150,000 on advertising revenue on a 6 page spread? Yes. However, this wouldn’t be sufficient online where traffic may only peak at 20,000 visitors; where as there is a much larger print readership”.

Tanya Cordrey of The Guardian closed the discussion with the unanimous decision that there are three things keeping print alive: magic, money and serendipity.  Schurenberg finished on the notion that print will continue to have a “velvet rope or celebrity appeal” that print simply cannot yet offer, while Harris emphasised the importance of taking a break from the digital world, and that reading a magazine should be seen as a luxury.

While mainstream print plays tug-of-war with the internet, independent ‘zine’s are on the increase. Only recently was Polyester Mag (an indie ‘zine created from a London flat by creative goddess Ione Gamble) named as one to watch by The Guardian. Whether you’re a feminist powerhouse or desire something a little more aphotic; there’s a ‘zine for that.

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