Does "Quality" Mean "Paper"?

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When people talk about quality journalism, they tend to also mean that it must appear on a dead tree.

That’s the feeling I get when I watch this video from Business Insider when Henry Blodget interviewed Jill Abramson (the executive editor of The New York Times):

People still love paper (sort of).

In my next book, CTRL ALT Delete (out on May 21st, 2013), I call this moment of time "purgatory" – we’re not in heaven… we’re not in hell. We’re, kinda, in limbo. That’s the feeling you get from Abramson and that’s the way consumer’s are behaving. On one hand, we love Spotify and Netflix (who needs a DVD player and/or entertainment content clogging up our hard drives with data) and, on the other hand, we line up on Boxing Day to buy hardcover books because they’re on sale for $10 a pop. On one had, we consume more and more content in digital channels like blogs, online news sites and others, but on the other hand, we run out to buy the last print edition of Newsweek. On one hand, we want our e-books delivered to us as fast we can hit the Buy Now With 1-Click button, but on the other hand, we shoot long-form videos and post them to YouTube when Seth Godin‘s latest book shows up on our doorsteps:

What does "quality" mean to you?

In watching the two videos above, it becomes abundantly clear that we have yet to cross the chasm that enables us to feel that same something for products in a digital format that we have for the physical and analog. It’s starting to shift (look at how passionate people are about their playlists), but we’re not there yet. Human beings take a serious amount of time to adapt to massive changes. We’re in a moment of exponential growth as the digitization of things becomes more pervasive. So, it’s important as an engine of marketing that you take a cold, hard look at how you connect people with your brand and figure out how you can attract them with both the physical and the digital. Sure, Seth Godin can get millions of people to download a free PDF book, but in the same instance, if his physical books aren’t able to be picked up at the local Barnes & Noble or airport bookstore, his sales are affected. People like having his books on their desks, on their bookshelves and, on their persons. There’s still something about picking up the latest edition of The New York Times and thumbing through it over an espresso at your local coffee shop. Sure, tablets are shifting and adjusting this kind of reading, but for anything serious, it must be bought on paper.

This isn’t me.

I’ve heard people say to me, "Mitch, you’re always on your iPhone!" What if I told you that 85% of the time, it is because I am reading a book on my Kindle app? Does that change your perspective. If those same people saw me reading a physical book, their intonation and brand perception of me would be different. It would be something like: "Wow, Mitch is always reading some kind of interesting book…" It’s a market of one example, but it’s true: if it’s digital and on my smartphone it can’t be anything important and substantive.

2013 is going to be an important year: the digital will become something of quality. It has begun.


  1. 1. You should take some time off.
    2. People still like stuff. And people don’t equate information with stuff. It’s not tangible. It’s important – air is, too – but people like to hold things. And books have been around since Guttenberg. Yes, books can be seen as “content delivery systems” and nothing more, but if book design is in the ascendancy (and it is), it’s exactly because of the presence of e-books: Books are getting bookier and offering that to the consumer the internet and the digital world can not. The sensual experience. It’s why David Eggar’s recent (and excellent) novel has an embossed cover. It’s why publishing houses like Melville House create beautiful paperbacks, it’s why Penguin has a series of classic books more identified with the cover designer than the authors in question (all of whom you can probably find for free online).
    People like touching things. We always have. Fancy that.

  2. Here’s good context. The recent interview Tim O’Reilly did with Wire (which caused a lot of consternation in the literary community, at least) and the recent Charlie Rose show he did abou the future of the book:
    In terms of ebooks surging, well of course they are. They started from nothing. Interesting to note that Kindle sales may be plateauing, however.
    If plateauing is even a word. It looks funny.

  3. Digital is the master copy ๐Ÿ™‚
    Paper’s destruction is inevitable. It’s simply a matter of time. It’s wasteful and unnecessary in a digital society.

  4. Quality is independent of format. Truth is truth, and relevant is relevant. The digital world is a critical PART of our life because it provides exposure to content that a person may never experience in the physical sense. It is education, but not connection. When I hold a book, read its content, feel a oneness in my mind, squeeze both sides with pleasure and contentment when I read something valuable, something that resonates, and can’t wait to turn the page and have that experience again, that is CONNECTION. That “quality” will never come from my monitor.

  5. As someone that publishes lots of types of digital content for sale (music, books, royalty-free art) I’ve noticed a HUGE shift for consumers being comfortable adopting digital products over physical ones.
    That said—there are still lots of instances where I’ve lost an ebook sale because someone wanted a copy they could hold, or lost an album sale because someone was a little too buzzed after a show I’ve played to buy the album on itunes (instead of walking away with a CD and half-remembering about it the next day).

  6. It is still difficult to share digital content with friends and family. I printed a photo album of a trip I took this year with my mother for her for Christmas. Although she is in her mid 70’s and online many of her friends and my 80+ year old father are not. The album allowed her to share the photos with people. It is the same with a digital book. I rarely buy fiction in digital format because when I read a good story I like to pass the book on to a friend. We are living in between two worlds. I did my year end review in Evernote this year instead of my journal but I will do my vision board in paper. I think Moleskine is a good example with their Evernote notebook. They have found a way to meld the digital and paper in a way that will satisfy their customers and for me, alleviate that feeling of cognitive dissonance I have when I purchase a paper notebook.

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