Print is not a burden. Useless drivel is the burden. So ignore this post.

Early this morning, there seemed to be a theme emerging in my RSS newsreader. Here are a few items that showed up:

Frank Anton of Hanley Wood, says:

“If the magazines published two or three years from now aren’t different, we’re in trouble. The current magazine model won’t take us into the next five years, let alone the next 100 years.”

Colin Crawford of IDG says:

“…being unburdened by print allowed the team at Infoworld the opportunity to focus on the changing needs of their customers and to develop online, event and mobile products.”

Jeff Jarvis responding to Colin’s post, says:

“Yes, print is a burden. It’s expensive to produce for it. It’s expensive to manufacture. It’s expensive to deliver. It limits your space. It limits your timing. It’s stale when it’s fresh. It is one-size-fits-all and can’t be adapted to the needs of each user. It comes with no ability to click for more. It has no search. It can’t be forwarded. It has no archive. It kills trees. It uses energy. It usually brings unions. And you really should recycle it. Wow, when you think about it, print sucks.

So what was the theme? Print is a burden. Unfortunately, saying “print is a burden” implies that there are other options out there that are not burdens. Frankly, the web is a burden. Traveling to events IDG puts on is a burden. Trying to synch my phone and computer is a burden. As Scott Karp displayed in a post yesterday, trying to discover which among 2,000 different news stories on the same topic is a burden.

Despite my love (and I use the word love very deliberately) of the magazine medium, I have never been burdened by thinking print is a hammer and every communications or marketing challenge is a nail.

Granted, my company has published magazines since the day it opened 16 years ago. But even back then, we also created lots of “interactive multimedia” (published on CD-ROM). And in those pre-web days, we also managed “forums” on CompuServe. As a custom media creator, I’ve never felt “burdened” by any medium that helps build strong relationships between our clients (associations and companies) and their members or customers. If smoke signals would help forge and sustain those relationships, we’d be all over it.

Those who know me — even through this blog — know I personally agree with Jeff Jarvis on his somewhat satirical indictment of print. I’m about as paper-free as someone can get in their personal and business practices, but I’m no print vegan (did I just create a new buzzterm?). As Jeff is writing a book and writes for newspapers and magazines, it’s not like he’s a print vegan either. But my print aversion is neither “environmental” (as I always say , if paper is the cause of global warming, someone needs to share that inconvenient truth with this guy) nor based on any belief that print is inherently bad. What I find a burden is poorly designed, written and produced print. What I find a burden is the clutter and confusion print and paper often add to my already cluttered life.

Bottomline: Print is not the burden. My time is the burden. If you publish a beautiful magazine with articles that really matter to me — that instruct, inform or celebrate something I feel strongly about, it is no burden on me. If you help me get to the information and insight I need to live a fuller life or conduct business in a more flexible and productive way, your blogging and tweeting and bookmarking does not burden me. Useless, redundant, meaningless, re-shuffled drivel is the burden. It can be delivered via print or on a weblog or a mobile device. Crap is a burden no matter what the medium used to deliver it.

  • Print Vegan – I like that. Not me either, however.

    Print may not be a burden on the consumer – at least not anymore than any other medium – but it is a rather large economic burden on the publisher, no? I think what is most interesting about the remarks by Crawford, Anton and Jarvis is that they indicate the extent to which print is facing rapidly diminishing returns. Magazines are in crisis not because there is a consumer demand problem, but because they are dying the death of a thousand cuts from the supply side. Runaway paper and fuel costs alone could kill off a lot of titles. Couple that with a drop in print ad value (based on the perception that the ROI and metrics just can’t compare with digital) and you have a real problem brewing. Sure, it may not touch some of the alternatively funded books you champion Rex, but for ad supported mags, the outlook is bleak. Unless something in the manufacturing equation changes before long it just won’t make economic sense to use advertising based print as a means to widely distribute information.

  • Plus, print gives you something to read when you sit in an airport without free wifi…

  • @Michael – I agree with you. For publishers who believe the only business model a magazine supports is the current advertising-page-space business model, the medium is a burden. I also agree that for many information-shuffling magazines, the outlook *should* look bleak. My appeal (and I think this is the point of what Frank Anton says, also) is to publishers and marketers to re-think what magazines should be in the context of the age in which we live. There are things that can be done much better online or via mobile devices or at events. But there are certain things a magazine can do that no other medium can touch. If a media company that provides a wide array of media channels to the consumer says to marketers that print is a “burden,” it just adds to the myth that magazine metrics can’t compare with digital.