Tuesday, June 19, 2007

BoSacks Speaks Out - Printed Magazines as Plastic Records

"To be a book-collector is to combine the worst characteristics of a dope fiend with those of a miser."
Robertson Davies (Canadian Journalist and Author. 1913-1995)

Printed Magazines Will Follow the Path of the Plastic Record
By BoSacks
Publishing Executive Magazine

To paraphrase the sages, publishing is a journey, not a destination. We have been on a very long journey, reaching out to more and more readers as our business models, our technology and our society have progressed and morphed to the challenges and changes of the reading public.

There are enormous new pressures on publishers now, and I think a case can be made that they are different and more complex than ever before. As I stated in a previous column in this magazine, we have been storing out-of-memory text for more than 25,000 years-a very long and noble tradition of teaching and sharing. But where once we had functionally slow and predictable growth strategies, we now seem to have almost instantaneous structural change and a mandatory global outreach program.

As far back as you can go, publishing was always local. Whether it was books, newspapers or magazines, it was a locally constructed, man-made event that required a certain amount of craftsmanship. (Is that term even used anymore?)

That localization included, in almost every case, the "thinking" as well as the physical product. If there was a broader distribution, in most cases it was an aftereffect, not a planned affair.

Until very recently, publishing, writing and printing were handmade products. Until the advent of the typewriter, authorship was constructed by hand with ink and paper.
Even the use of the elegant typewriter was still a process of pecking on a keyboard, which used a mechanical and understandable process of levers and gears to affect the keystroke. I wonder how many of my readers have ever used a typewriter? No, not you geezers-the question really is directed at the younglings.

How many readers understand that paste-up of mechanical boards was just that? Artists took galleys--paper that had typography or ink on paper in columnar, long sheets--spread glue on the back and actually, by hand, pasted the type onto a cardboard sheet, hopefully in an artistic and readable style.

This handmade construct then was photographed by craftsmen, and their product was turned over to a different set of tradesmen, who would, by hand, make printing plates. Then the plates were put, by hand, onto a printing press, and the color adjustments were set, by hand, by a pressman who also was a craftsman of the trade.

So, where am I headed with this nostalgic trip down publishing's man-made history? Magazines are unquestionably printed better and more precisely than ever before. What was once typed or even penned by hand now is instantly spell-checked and corrected without intervention by the author. And the speed of global delivery can be instantaneous if so desired.

In the 21st century, we have a new breed of craftsmanship learning an ever-widening path of information distribution. Where once the written word only was available as ink on paper, we now have a universe of distribution models and methods. There is a debate in our industry about the life and/or death of the printed page. In my opinion, it is an unnecessary debate.

Let me use the music industry as an example. Once, the recorded music industry depended on pressed plastic--records--to reproduce music. Then in 1982, the CD was launched. There were years of transition as the listening public graduated to the new storage system. Now we have MP3s, and the same transformation is taking place. Did you know that there are still audiophiles that cling to the old records as preferable? They are known as the "collectors." And yes, there is still an industry that supports them.

To bring that perspective to the magazine industry, I think we always will have printed magazines, much like we still have plastic records. But the majority of readers eventually will move on to the digital delivery of the printed word with new technology and a globally instant reach. Dead trees with type on them always will be available to the collectors who can afford them, while the general mass of the reading public most likely will pull out their e-paper, and read anything and everything they want to their hearts' content. It's not a matter of if, it's only a matter of when. PE

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president of The Precision Media Group (www.BoSacks.com). He is publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and corporate janitor

No comments: