The lion of evening

A bit more than three years ago, Graydon Carter took to Mediaweek (no longer with us) to "offer evidence" that print is not dead. At the time I responded in two ways:

  • Defending "print" as a concept muddies the water; it's better to focus on how broadly content is deployed; and
  • Print is not dead, but print alone almost certainly is.

I've come back to these arguments from time to time. Truthfully, I'm tempted to roll them out whenever someone writes the gut-reaction piece to proclaim the death or everlasting life of a medium.

Cue Graydon Carter and Ann Friedman.

Okay, Carter's reappearance is somewhat involuntary. Port magazine had him pose for a much-debated group cover photo whose story line once again promoted the idea that ours is a "golden age" for print magazines. Still, Carter's pro-print bonafides are well established.

Friedman, writing at the web site of the Columbia Journalism Review, responds with hyperbole of her own: "If print's not dead, it's certainly in hospice care." She tries to back that up by invoking a 2010 mediaIDEAS report that saw the revenue magazine publishers derive from print editions falling to less than half of all revenues by 2017 or so.

We could spend days debating the assumptions and projections in the mediaIDEAS report, but they aren't the primary problem here. The report talks about revenue from "digital" exceeding that of print in a few years. Debate the year, but the inflection point may well be near.

The problem is that Friedman, "a magazine editor who loves the Internet", equates "digital" with the web. But digital is also a tablet, a "phablet" and a smartphone as well as a television hooked up to a cable box, video game console or Apple TV. The list will get bigger by the time we get to that mystical inflection point.

The focus on which medium wins obscures the hard work required to develop content that makes sense across platforms, including print, that range from oversized to the palm of one's hand. Some content may only make sense in print; other content may make sense only in (some) digital realms. Industry-wide projections and proclamations make for good headlines and poor planning.

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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