A Future For Print… ?

Saying that print media is in trouble is stating the blindingly obvious. The consensus is that, somewhere down the line, print might even disappear altogether. Everything will be tablets, foldable screens and 15th generation color movie capable e-ink screens.

I’m not so sure. Yes, print used for news propagation is probably dead; the Internet just does that better. But there’s still something deeply attractive about a sheet of paper, a carefully laid out page, or a beautifully printed picture.
And I think there might be a place for that, even in our digital future.

If it survives, print will have to evolve of course. One way would be products with a strong identity. Something that will be significantly more engaging than what we have today. Something that will be about the audience as much as it will be about the content. Magazines can offer a niche product that serves its readers’ pride and intelligence, almost as an identity and fashion statement.

I’ve come across a few examples:

  • The Gentlewoman is a high end fashion magazine. My fiancée describes it as “fashion for adults”. Clever, beautiful, and serious, as opposed to the teen pop soup we’re served elsewhere. Fashion as a well thought out subject matter, for grown ups who actually know how to read.
    The same goes for Fantastic Man, its male counterpart.
  • The Art of Eating is a bit less sophisticated, but covers the same basis: offering an engaging and authentically passionate product to a core audience, who won’t find this kind of thing in mainstream media and would still love to have a physical representation of the thing they love and who they are.
  • The Verge is actually what got me thinking about this whole thing. When Topolsky, Patel, Miller and the team at Vox Media started it, no one really thought something different could be done in that space. But their approach was bold, colorful, beautiful, visual and above all intelligent and authentic.
    A few weeks ago, I realized this was the first site I would actually consider paying for. Then, thinking about this article I wanted to write, I realized I would actually love to have something like that, in print form.
    And then I read an article saying it wouldn’t be out of the question. That article is now down for some reason, but here’s the Techmeme link.

The Age of the Grown Up Geek

There is such a thing as a “grown up geek”. Adolescent at heart, playful and a bit foul mouthed, but highly intelligent and analytical. And usually better informed and knowledgeable in their field than “serious” journalists from newspaper or TV outlets. Topolsky is one example, there are many others.

These individuals have often been dismissed by established industries because of this deceptive exterior. But things have been changing, as these geeks have been growing up and showing that they’re actually regular people, some of them brilliant. People don’t need a suit to be intelligent, and these guys are doing fine in a world of t-shirts. It took a while, but we’re getting there.

There’s something of an identity element in there too: the “grown up geek” is relatable and authentic. They are “real people” who talk and act like real people. And they’re also excellent at their job. So we would probably follow them a bit farther than we would a guy in a tie that doesn’t understand us (or what he’s saying).

My point is this: print is currently run by guys in ties, trying to reach a wide audience. I think there’s a place for guys in t-shirts, trying to reach their peers.

Here’s how I imagine it could work.

On the product side:

  • Intelligent and well thought out articles… very little news.
  • Elegant and beautiful design.
  • Authentic and relatable editorial team. They’re as passionate as you are.
  • Premium price for low periodicity (30~50$, 2~4 issues a year).
  • Small team and limited print run: the audience won’t be huge.
  • Oh, and no stand availability of course. It’s all done via subscriptions.

On the audience side:

  • Niche: this is a topic you love, and others don’t talk about it as well.
  • Identity: buying it says something about who you are. You’re part of that club.
  • Pride: we don’t have many physical manifestations of your passion. This one goes on the coffee table for all to see.
  • Affordable: all in all, 50$ a year is an acceptable price for something you love.

Print media isn’t the telegraph: it isn’t being replaced by something that makes it completely obsolete. There will always be a use for words and images printed on paper. The trick is to figure out what that use is going to be going forward.

Think of this as a collectible figurine, or a kickstarter project, or anything you actually want to be a part of and show your love for. A tshirt with a reference from a comic or a game you love. Most people won’t get it, but those who do will love it. I think this is one thing that a magazine could aim for in a digital world. It’s all about a strong and engaged community.

Sure, it probably won’t sell millions. And it probably doesn’t mean that print will rise from the ashes and conquer all, either. But I do think there is a comfortable place in the sun for print in the future, and we shouldn’t discount it just yet.

Well, that’s my take on it anyway. What about you? What to you think about this possible future for print? Would you be willing to pay for something like, say, 40$ for three engaging issues a year? I’m genuinely interested.


March 16th, 2013