“How can we get institutions and organizations to stop holding conferences titled ‘The Death of Print’? I have no time for this,” a friend recently complained to me. Indeed, the most recent Magazine Publishers of America conference began with a discussion of how dead-tree editions are, well, dying.
Hey, print’s not dead! Have you been to an airport lately?
I kid. Really what’s dead is the primacy of print. It’s not the first way that most of us get news, and it’s not the most important. But journalism on paper still has a place. It works quite well as a marketing tool, a loss leader. It also makes for a great premium product with wide appeal. In a recent post on Flavorwire, Jason Diamond heralded the “rise of the artisanal magazine.”
For a great example of the future—look no further than Rookie. The Web magazine for and by teen girls, founded by phenom Tavi Gevinson, publishes only digitally. But last year it released the Rookie Yearbook, a collector’s item that allowed its most devoted readers to have and hold a piece of the site. They’ll presumably be publishing these annually.
While it’s easy to mock nostalgia for print (see: this side-splitting parody from McSweeney’s this week), that tendency can and should be tapped, even by digitally focused media brands. I’m confident that if my Tomorrow magazine colleagues and I had tried to raise funds for a Web-only publication, we would have come away with far fewer financial backers. When readers already have an emotional connection to what you’re trying to do, sometimes a physical product makes for a perfect way to strengthen and monetize that connection—even as you acknowledge that most people will consume your magazine for free online.
Let’s try to channel every death-of-print conversation into one about process. Whether it’s mining data or telling stories or fostering community or building trust, there are all kinds of questions we could be considering that have answers across platforms and formats—including, sometimes, on paper.