False dichotomies

Mediaweek recently ran an opinion piece by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter entitled “Print is Dying… Really?” The subhead was more telling:

“At a time when magazines are everyone’s whipping boy, Graydon Carter offers evidence to the contrary.”

Carter leads with the op-ed chestnut: “It’s become fashionable to proclaim that print is dying …”

Where is it fashionable to proclaim print is dead? With whom? Where is Spy when you really need it?

Seriously, no one believes print is dead, though a number of us think print alone almost certainly is.

True: some companies are demonstrably less interested in print than they used to be. But for every Time Inc. divesting titles, a Bonnier is acquiring them. For every Gruner+Jahr throwing up its hands and exiting a market, a Meredith is taking up the baton and trying to save some magazines.

Conflating print with success and rallying around format as a solution disguises the reality that a failed business model is the problem. Established publishers are far more challenged than print will ever be.

In cutting deeply, major publishers have reflexively decided that content is too expensive, rather than trying to understand that content is too narrowly deployed, something a post-print vision could address.

In the last two years, publishing leaders have laid off thousands of people who just the day before were doing something useful. In the wake of these decisions, the same leaders have failed to provide a vision of the future (other than “print is not dead”). Worse, they now need to rally the industry around the “power of print”.

So please, stop promoting the false dichotomies. The rest of us are not saying “print is dead”. We’re asking that you move beyond allegiance to format and help us keep the publishing business alive.

Full disclosure: Other than Spy and Bonnier, I’ve worked for or consulted with every company mentioned in this post, including Conde Nast, parent company for Vanity Fair.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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