At work, we let a big cat out of the bag this week: Our online magazine is turning against the tide and will be released in print this fall. Yes, extremely “3.0”, as my colleague pointed out, and a new challenge I am quite excited about. What I found the most remarkable, though, was the reaction to our announcement.
While much of the feedback I personally received was either enthusiastic or very tongue-in-cheek (“finally you’ll be a real journalist!” or “At long last, The European can be used to wrap fish!”), the overall undertone has been incredibly… loaded with respect. This surprised me, since it kind of made our move sound as though we were graduating from the testing ranks of online to go boldly where no man has gone before: into the real world, the world of print.
Of course, the reason for my surprise roots deeply in my own views of the media landscape. First of all, my enthusiasm for everything digital is more than skin-deep: Having grown up in an increasingly computerized world, I jumped on the bandwagon of digital media from early on and have barely looked back. While I love the look and feel of everything analogue (hell, I grind my own coffee beans every morning, much to the dismay of many bystanders), the relative impracticability of analogue formats in a digital world has often held me back from becoming sentimental for the old times, let alone romanticize them. Some of my favorite photographers shoot film, and the results are often stunning – Yet when I dug out my grandfather’s old camera and loaded a role of film, my father looked at me and spoke some wise words: “This isn’t going to be something you will enjoy. It is too… slow”. Sometimes you have to listen to your parents – and considering how I publish and share my pictures, he was probably right.
Traditional media has many undeniable advantages, some of them stemming from the fact that opening a newspaper just seems so natural: There’s great readability on paper, the experience ist mostly distraction-free and having grown up with a newspaper on the breakfast table just underlines how used we must all be to the idea of printed media.
On the other hand, digital publishing has its own advantages, which have always made it feel like the next logical step to reading. This applies particularly well to journalistic formats: Low entry barriers, corrections on the fly, multimedia content, greater exposure across the world, frictionless sharing, even interactions between authors and readers. To me, these facts not only enhance the existing experience, they also chip away at some of the old media myths that everyone seems so willing to cling to: That printed words are set in stone and command a certain authority just on the virtue of being printed. Particularly because of that, digital has always felt like the breath of fresh air. If the humble blog awakes us to this new reality, the notion of authority through print is a small price to pay.
Sure, reading on the web isn’t yet all it can be. But standing on the brink of the next big thing tends to require a fair bit of patience; some of the recent ideas have been hacks to smooth out the bumpy road of online media, making it resemble traditional print products. Innovations like full-screen reading, adblockers and Instapaper have nevertheless left me, in the words of Nicholas Carr, “very encouraged”. Thats is why I was so taken aback by the kind of reaction our announcement elicited. Even in 2012, print seems to command a certain authority that online just doesn’t. Despite all of my personal experiences, it seems that we haven’t yet ventured as far into the digital world as the advent of tablets, omnipresent connections and multiple channels has made me believe. I am almost inclined to call it a stigma: An online publication is shrugged off as “some blog” (or worse, a portal), whereas the mere announcement of a printed product warrants some immediate respect.
From a business perspective, this is great news: If print means premium and thus inherently increases the value of content, printing might be the rather ironic answer to all of online media’s woes. When examining this paradox more closely, however, content no longer seems to be king.
Me? I am waiting to be surprised by my own sentimentality once I hold the printed product in my hand.