Wired For Print

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The publishing industry is still trying to figure out what is going on. They’re blaming the digitization of everything on their weakening sales (both at the newsstand and in terms of advertising dollars). Are that many people leaving the print version of newspapers and magazines behind for their online counterparts or are there just too many media choices and natural selection is at play?

Those were just some of the thoughts that I was personally grappling with while attending the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishers conference in New York City last week. It seems like the book publishing industry truly believes that their entire industry is in peril due to the e-book and Amazon Kindle. For years, that same industry was complaining that fewer and fewer people are reading books as people’s interest shifted to television and magazines. So, has the Internet and newer digital channels simply become the new scapegoat?

We really don’t hate print that much, do we?

Every month I look forward to the new issue of Wired Magazine. My passion for publishing has not changed, even though fewer and fewer magazines of personal interest are published. I still enjoy a stroll through the aisles of the newsstand. With every visit, there’s this faint hope that a new issue of Wired Magazine will magically be ready. Three weeks out of four, I am disappointed. At the same time, everyday there are fistfuls of new pieces of content uploaded to the Wired website. I don’t even have to go looking for it, through the magic of RSS and Google Reader, I am immediately notified when Wired publishes anything new online. Here’s the big question: why do I care so little about constant and fresh updates from Wired online while – at the same time – a new issue of the print magazine feels like the perfect gift has just arrived? I enjoy the printed version so much more that I spend a couple of moments strategizing when I can cozy up with the issue and give it its due attention.

Are we wired for print? (pardon the pun)

Reading different formats produces different results. Whether it’s a book, online article, a piece on the iPod Touch or a PDF eBook, the way we intake every character and sentence is different. Why? For some reason, we read books differently than we read Blogs. Maybe it has to do with the focus of having something printed in your hands and not being able to simply click away from it? Maybe it has to do with how much content we are all trying to consume online – many small pieces of snackable content and only the really sharp ones stick out in our minds? Maybe when we have to wait for something and then pay for it, we put a higher value on it? Maybe because something printed on paper feels more "real" to us?

Whatever the reason – and I’m sure there are many people much smarter than I am uncovering how we consume content as a scientific experiment – print is not dying because of the digital channel. There are just that many more choices and people are having to make very difficult choices. An amazing novel will come out and still sell millions, just like a new Blog will pop up and rocket to the top of Technorati.

It might be as simple as: great content will always find its audience regardless of how it is published.


  1. Was just thinking about this earlier. For me, there is an entirely absent tactile element to my intake of news and information online. Newsprint feels like newsprint.
    I also happen to think I value the information I read in hard copy differently. I can plow through 150+ blogs a day (good, bad or ugly) in my reader, but only reserve space for one title on the nightstand.

  2. Print for entertaining reading, internet for research and drifting, I would say.
    And there is so much redundancy in print we now see with the redundancy on the net, we just need 10 percent of what is available. And news quality is better online, because I can compare, dig deeper, reuse it easier.

  3. I can honestly say I still need to consume both forms of content. Paper is so much better for certain things. Try reading the flyers on a Saturday morning and comparing all the products you are interested in without spreading them on the breakfast table. Try reading a 6 page article in Toronto Life of the New Yorker in one sitting without putting down the magazine (much easier to do on paper and coming back after a coffee break to a fold in the top corner of the page). Digital content – sure. Blogs, corporate website information, newspaper length articles. I do still prefer paper for magazines and books.

  4. Personally, I think I’m still wired to print. I too love the physicality of a magazine, for example, the layout, the colour, etc. Lately, I’ve increasingly been reading more and more content online … and maybe even subconsciously, feeling guilty about it (which may be another discussion): case in point, I purposefully (and joyfully) took a couple of hours on Sunday to read a book (“The Translator�, by Daoud Hari – incredible man/story).
    Yes, it might be as simple as: great content will always find its audience regardless of how it is published … but only the (audience) numbers will change. I think it may be worth asking your question “are we wired to print� to today’s 12 year-olds – but ten years from now.

  5. I had an amazing conversation with someone who grew up in the UK about newspapers; and how they seem to serve a higher more cultural purpose in europe.
    My English friend was telling me about “Sunday mornings back home”. Unlike Saturdays in Canada, the SUNDAY newspaper is the big read, and it’s the quintessential family tradition.
    On SUndays in England, Stephen (my friend’s name) would wake up, go to the store and buy not one, but TWO newspapers… back at home his two kids, wife and he passed the various newspaper sections back and forth for 2, sometimes 3 hours, taking in every word on every page.
    This is not somethign that can be easily replaced with RSS, Google Reader or any on-demand technology.
    And regarding “print blaming digital”? That’s BS. Simply put: conventional / newsprint media companies (just like most of the business world) have not yet figured out how to really monetize their digital assets. When they do finally figure it out, digital will be the saving grace! (that is if the CRTC doesnt kill it first)

  6. I guess print remains the first preference for people who have time/love to make time for their reading, while digital is best left for express perusal.
    I usually curl up on my couch with the Times on Sunday whereas during the week, my iGoogle or RSS reader does the job for me.
    It’s just a matter of different needs, different reads 😉
    – Edward J

  7. I think that the quality of reading is different (I seem to remember seeing something about flicker rate on monitors playing a role with this). I find it hard to take in online information on anything but the most superficial level while reading print (especially books) is a different experience.
    Doesn’t help the publishers trying to change the advertising models though. I suspect some of them will still be complaining when they go under as well.

  8. There will always be a market for hard copy print. I think that bias and sensationalism has decreased popularity among newspaper readers though. While it may seem that now it is all but dead, I believe that in the not so distant future, if papers focus instead of scrambling to reach specific markets, they will emerge victorious. This is for the simple fact that people are not robots and are spending so much of their time online working, shopping, or socially interacting that they want and need to take a break, and if that involves reading a newspaper that is not in front of a computer screen, they will do that.

  9. It really is weird – that we’re wired that way – but I was just thinking about the same thing the other day. I too, subscribe to Wired through google reader but often find myself skipping over new entries. However, I am transfixed by a new copy of wired in print and can often go back over old issues and find gems that have new meaning as time as passed. There is just something fundamentally different about the more concrete, tangible experience of paper in your hands that is lost through keyboard and LCD screen.

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