Everybody's a Critic

Print is dead. Long live print!

In this post we are featuring guest ranter Patricia Craft, managing editor of Horticulture magazine. Her rant strikes a familiar chord with me; as a fellow magazine editor, I struggle with balancing online and print priorities—especially since my heart—and our revenues—are still located in the printed page.—Elizabeth

Hort

Take your dire warnings of the death of print and leave me be. There is nothing I love so much as coming home to find the current issue of my favorite magazine in my mailbox. I climb the three flights of stairs to my condo with eagerness, knowing I’ll soon be curled up on my big comfy couch with friends who will be dispensing advice and inspiration in liberal, beautifully photographed doses. And I’ll get to see what the fashion fool says I should or shouldn’t wear this month—how did he get that gig?

I love a magazine that entertains and educates me, and that month after month is reliable but manages to surprise me, too. As the managing editor of Horticulture, I understand how much time, blood, sweat, and tears go into planning, editing, designing, proofing and getting every single issue to print. It’s our goal to have our readers respond just the way I do to that certain other magazine when the new Horticulture lands in their mailboxes.

Yeah, yeah, I know they say print is dead and that online is where it’s at today (and that the trend is toward even more web-centered publishing). There is, indeed, a shift toward serving our customers’ additional needs online—we try to do it every day at Horticulture. Along with putting out a print issue, we keep our Website (hortmag.com) full of up-to-the-minute info, we share additional information that we couldn’t fit into the print edition with links to Dig Deeper online, we’ve partnered with the irreverent and wonderful Amanda Thomsen, who blogs on our site, we produce CDs and DVDs full of gardening advice culled from the pages of the magazine (we have more than 100 years of gardening archives from which to tap), we host webinars, we manage a Facebook page and you’ll find us on Twitter @cohorts. I know first-hand that publishing no longer means simply putting print on paper—now we’re a media company.

I subscribe to the I-blog-therefore-I-am theory in my personal life, spend ridiculous amounts of time on Facebook and am trying to tweet (@pattycraft) more often. But no matter how much I love staying connected with thousands of people online, and surfing the blogosphere with my morning cup of coffee, my finest hours are still spent on that comfy couch, with a beloved if endangered species: my favorite magazine.

Long live print!

Posted by on April 23, 2009 at 6:38 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
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30 Responses to “Print is dead. Long live print!”

  1. Self promotion is obviously not dead.

    Like Horticulture magazine, where’s the beef ?

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I see that cranky comments from Michelle D. are also alive and well. Which is fine—we welcome them!—but I disagree that this is entirely self-promotion. (nothing wrong with that, either) The issue of how print mags keep their heads above water is an important one–especially for those of us who still like reading garden magazines. Magazines are having to put more and more resources into their websites, which is frustrating and problematic, because that won’t keep them afloat financially.
    It’s worth a discussion.

  3. Michele Owens says:

    I’m with Michelle D. I don’t buy the “comfy couch” argument for print. The best magazines are just like the best blogs and the best books–they have a real point of view that justifies them.

    As far as the financial questions go, I have no answers.

  4. Erin says:

    Hear, hear! Well stated. For me, and millions of other people, no computer will ever be able to deliver the joy I get from sitting down with a magazine or (gasp) newspaper. Yes, a real, live newspaper. And gardening magazines, and other niche publications, particularly those suited to beautiful images, are especially wonderful to savor on the printed page.

    As for the financial aspects, well, I think newspapers, particularly, are realizing that it wasn’t a good idea to be giving away their content for free, and some magazines went down the same path. A Web site is an important component of a publication, but it should never (or at least in almost all cases) replace the printed product. People say they don’t want they don’t care about newspapers or magazines, but believe me, they would miss them if they were gone.

  5. I agree. I hope niche magazines will be able to survive all this upheaval and find a way to make a profit off their online presence in addition to putting out profitable hard copies. I agree with Erin that giving away content for free on the internet appears to be the downfall for newspapers. I hope magazines don’t suffer the same fate!

  6. Claire Splan says:

    I second the poster’s emotions. But the reality is that several of the print magazines I subscribed to are now dead, and interestingly and annoyingly, one has moved to an online version only. So instead of having a great, beautiful interesting magazine to relax with, I have another annoying email in my inbox, which means I hardly even look at this magazine any more and won’t be re-subscribing. Publishers and advertisers, take note. I spend lots and lots of my day online. But damnit, I want print magazines!

  7. John says:

    I work in publishing, but not in magazine publishing. When I’m having this conversation with friends I always take the local newspaper and splay it open showing both pages and challenge them to provide that much information on a webpage. It can’t be done. I want to easily scan the page and choose what articles to read. I don’t enjoy scrolling through long chains of info. I also like big flashy pictures, the kind that websites lack.

    My guess is that in order for things to re-structure, things will first have to completely fail. After the dust settles a new business model will emerge and a newer reader friendly product will rise above the ashes. People will have to do without in order to grasp the concept of paying for information that today is available for free. Well… that, or a well designed computer virus that stops internet traffic in its tracks and makes everyone rethink “free”.

    I will also say that magazine producers need to take a sharp eye to the consumers experience when opening their creations. It’s not the number of ads or inserts or whatnots, it’s the placement, it’s the way a lot of stuff interrupts the flow which ruins the experience for me – the buyer.

  8. Jamie O. says:

    I will probably post more later, but I work in teaching and learning with technology at Penn State and have a background in print. So, on this issue I am of two minds – I do love my gardening catalogs and an occasional magazine, but I confess that I rarely pick up a newspaper other than to make paper pots.

    I feel for those in the print world, and I will say I am not sure that a digital model will always be financially un-friendly.

    What will be a game changer is when the Kindle-type thing becomes like a newspaper/magazine, so you can have the best of both worlds. Meaning no back-lit display that is more like real paper (like the Kindle). The Kindle2 is a leap beyond the Kindle, so we are starting to get there. The advantage of a newspaper or magazine sized version of the Kindle would be something that looks and feels like you are holding a print piece, but at the same time gives you access to a myriad of publications.

    While it is true that young people are just not reading too much print, you guys can take heart that e-textbooks are not really what they exclusively want. Students want to be able to mark passages, etc. They also like search abilities, so often, if possible, students greatly appreciate textbooks AND e-books.

    John’s point is solid – this will all sort out at some point. danah boyd, an educational technologist who works at Harvard, made a pretty astute observation on new technology, it follows this cycle:

    - new technology comes out, early adopters love it, the news media gets it totally wrong and stokes panic (PERVERTS ARE ALL OVER FACEBOOK HIDE THE BABIES!)

    - People eat up the panic and declare it the end of the world (unless you are a teenager, then you are all over it and love the new technology).

    - Us old fogies adopt it and discover hey, look, this just might not be the end of the world. Savvy people realize they need to adapt their careers to it and thrive (or they don’t and get left behind). Teens meanwhile are appalled.

    - Things sort out and neither the panic-fomenters nor those who think the new technology is Eden are totally right. See the bold predictions during the Internet bubble on either side of that debate.

  9. LauraBee says:

    I spend my working hours at the computer. Eight-plus hours of mousing & typing is more than enough for me. When I finally get home & can relax, I don’t dream of curling up with the keyboard. That’s entirely too much like work ! I want a page in front of me, something I can circle portions of, or dog-ear the pages, rip out the pages to send to my Mom.

    Besides, glossy pages are much easier on the eyes than the glow of the monitor. And no one ever had carpal tunnel problems from turning too many pages.

  10. Angie says:

    I love my magazines! I get fewer now because so many digressed into a place that is similar to HGTV, lots of info on containers, paths and garden rooms, but not so much on the gardening part. The ones that I am loyal to though, are carried into my sun room with a cup of tea and I curl up on my lounge chair and read cover to cover with delight. While I can take my lap top anywhere to read online, it just isn’t the same as sitting with my magazines! Long live print!!!

  11. Very interesting post (and comments) about an important topic. Online media is great, but nothing can replace the pleasure of curling up on the couch with a lovely and well-written magazine. Perhaps I’m old fashioned…

  12. Jenn says:

    I have to admit that this latest issue of Hort was much improved over the last two. I do hope you keep improving, because you haven’t lost me yet – but you came damn close.

    Here’s my view: I don’t suscribe to Horticulture to get the latest from the blogging culture. I spend lots of time online. When I open the pages of your mag, I want to find writers who have some reputation in their respective fields – which is not to say the ‘over the fence’ approach isn’t valuable. Just please don’t stuff your issues with just this.

    Also, make the pictures of the writers, when just a headshot, smaller than any other photo content. 3/4 of a page taken up by a cell-phone photo of a blogger is *most definitely* NOT what I am paying for.

    And watch that photo quality. Don’t stretch the limits of your images – if the first thing I see when the magazine opens is a pixel-lean image amoung pixel-rich photos in a layout, I’m not going to be impressed. Some of your latest spreads look like they were proofed on a dot-matrix printer out of somebody’s garage. Bring the quality back up!

    But as I said, your last issue showed a return to the fine standards I have come to expect from Horticulture, and I hope you are able to maintain this in future.

    Next issue will be the proof – it’s sink or swim time. And yes, I realize that the next issue went to the printer many months ago – but I’m laid off and there is always another magazine out there that I am itching to subscribe to. I’m paid ahead on your mag by at least a year. That’s a year of reading quality content.

    Somewhere else, if need be.

  13. Germi says:

    I love magazines. Friends used to call me Maga-Zina. But no matter how much we WANT to love them, no matter how much publishers and editors tell us that they are better than the new technology; they are falling short. And the tactile satisfaction of luxuriously turning pages and lingering over glossy images doesn’t make up for the fact that oftentimes, shelter and garden mags aren’t giving their readers anything fresh.

    I have to be honest – Amanda Thompsen is the only reason I go to the Hortmag website, which is hard to navigate and really needs a re-design (but she is seriously worth it!), and I flip through the magazine on the newstand whenever I see it but never buy one. I need something more than a re-tread of age old garden wisdom and maybe some eye candy. I don’t think anyone can deny that the online garden blogging community has really stepped up to the plate and is full of vibrancy, beautiful images, and is also pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo – this site is a prime example.
    It doesn’t matter that Horticulture is trying to work the digital media – they are doing it with the same tired mindset. Bringing one awesome blogger onboard is a step in the right direction, but why stop there? Put her in the magazine, too! She has a real point of view and is an authentic talent!

    Funny that Patricia Craft comes here to rant when maybe she should use Garden Rant as a model – make your magazine more like this! I don’t want a cuddly experience – I want to be inspired, motivated, challenged, and I want my horizons broadened. And I don’t think that is alot to ask, because it happens every day on blogs like this!

    I don’t love print for print’s sake – give me something to love! PLEASE!
    Until them, I’m with Michelle D. and Michele O.
    Thanks for letting me rant (again)

  14. Rosella says:

    No-one has yet mentioned the sheer pleasure of settling at the breakfast table with one’s husband, wife, significant other, roommate, whoever, and divvying up the morning paper so that both can read sections and talk over coffee about what’s there. Unless you have two monitors or two Kindle2s, this is just not possible with on-line news. I understand the March of Time and that one needs to get in step, but there’s not room at my breakfast table. Also, the discarded sections go on the floor for the comfort of the cat, who likes to be with us and we think she absorbs knowledge through her butt as she sits on them. She couldn’t sit on a Kindle, and she would be bereft! And much less informed.

  15. joene says:

    No computer keyboard or screen can duplicate the cozy warmth of curling up with a good gardening magazine in front of a roaring fire on a snowy winter day. I emphasize good, meaning it will inspire and intrigue, but still show how concepts presented within are obtainable, at some level, at home. I enjoy Horticulture, the magazine, but agree that smaller photos of contributors should be replaced by more content. One of my favorite features is the essay at the end of each issue … and, yes, I read Elizabeth’s recent ongardening piece. I enjoy the opportunity to get into the head of other gardeners and their garden-related experiences, particularly from writers and gardeners without well-known names. Magazines and other print media need to stay in touch with their every day readers without talking down to us … once this is lost the subscription follows.

  16. Kim says:

    I’ve enjoyed every single comment as well as the post.

    A couple of points, I LOVE my newspaper, but I’m considering cancelling my subscription because they’ve raised rates (again) and cut content way too far. And I won’t be using their website – enough comment here about why news websites just don’t make the grade. I’ll just sigh and mourn another little pleasure lost (and get more ignorant).

    There’s one Kindle in my extended family, owned by a 69 year old male who is giddily in love with the thing. I held it and looked at it recently. Give me real books (and magazines). I need to feel the paper and see the lovely color pictures and flip back and forth and and and. Teenage child agrees. We love print.

    My teenage child fights me for the newspaper in the morning, and it’s for more than just the comics and sports. And same child hates newspaper and news websites.

    What would Garden Man do without his handyman magazine, folded back on itself, precariously perched on the edge of a sawhorse, providing the how-to for a project? Would we risk a Kindle there? I think not.

    Long live print from this household as well. But if you’re gonna do it, do it right.

  17. Mary says:

    It sounds like we definitely have two camps here. I for one am old enough to have seen many, many changes in both the printing industry and gardening. I operated a typesetting machine that literally printed one letter of a headline at a time!! We pasted copy with wax. I have watched the evolution of technology with awe and I absolutely love, love, love my computer and everything it brings into my world. However, I also never want a website to be my only option. I want to carry my magazine in the car and read it on a trip or share it with a friend. I want to sit on the back porch and read it. I want to take it to the picnic table by the pond. And don’t talk to me of laptops and that “K” word. Choices- that’s what all of us really want.

  18. firefly says:

    I work in academic publishing and don’t for a minute think that print is dead (or will go away any time soon). It is a universal medium. You don’t need the latest software (or an electrical outlet) to read a book, newspaper, or magazine, and the file format never goes out of date.

    However, most gardening magazines (Horticulture included) bore me to death. “How print mags keep their heads above water” is by acting as purveyors of the kind of conventional wisdom that doesn’t offend advertisers.

    Even though I’ve had a garden only 3 years, I find that magazines generally repeat things I already know and rarely offer information I can actually use. (The current article on scavenged plant containers? mentions the kinds of annuals you buy at Home Depot, complete with cultivar names. If you’re going to spend all that time on unusual pots, why not grow something unusual — heirloom even — in them?)

    When I have questions, I ask the Internet. University hort sites especially are chock-full of information, they don’t presume to make suggestions, and when I’m done reading I don’t have to load up the recycle bin.

  19. growingedge says:

    I too long for the day when I could curl up with a magazine and get my hands all inky. No matter how much I long for those days, they are over.
    As a former print magazine publisher (The Growing Edge, RIP 4/1989-2/2009) the financial reality of getting the thing in print is what struck home for me, that the magazine curling up days are over.
    In the future, long after we are gone to the library in the sky, print will be looked upon as the hammer, chisel and stone tablet of our time.
    The cost of printing is continually going up and UP. The reality of printing costs is one that only those that work in publishing REALLY experience firsthand and know about (I really don’t miss that $40,000 print bill every other month.)
    Advertisers don’t want to pay the increase and are looking at ways to cut their advertising costs. Most subscribers definitely don’t want to pay what it would really cost to print the magazine or so few of them that it would be financially impossible to print the thing. So the increased financial reality of publishing a magazine is and will be the final nail in the coffin for most magazines no matter how much readers reminisce about spending intimate curling up time with the pages of the magazine.
    However, after spending a week or so in a grieving mode after ceasing to print GE and burying my beloved magazine, I snapped out of it when I started to add daily postings to the growingedge.com site.
    When I would write a story for the print magazine, my editors would tell me I would have to shorten it and cut out this picture and that picture. Basically, my story became the edited Reader’s Digest version of the whole story because of space and cost limitations. Editing still is rightfully needed but the electronic cutting knife is used less.
    With web centric publishing, the cuts are few and far between and both writer and reader can get a more full and satisfying reading experience with more words, pictures, audio and video.
    I know when I switched from a CRT computer monitor to a large, wide screen LCD, the issue of my eyes burning after reading became mute.
    I do miss the curling up time with the magazine but my wife likes it better now when I spend more time curling up with her!

  20. Okay, I’ll say it. I’m not bringing my laptop into the bathroom and that’s the only reason I still subscribe to magazines. I wasn’t an early fan of the IPOD, but I adore mine now, so I can see a Kindle-like device coming along and moving me away from the printed book, but there’s always going to be the bathroom and a few magazines sitting on top of the tank because if they get wet I’m only out a few bucks. And this is from a woman who was holding a cell phone, Blackberry, and People Magazine sitting in a pedicure chair who will be eternally grateful that the item that landed in the foot tub was the People.

  21. Sarah says:

    Patricia, you get kudos from a fellow magazine managing editor. There’s a lot of truth in what you have to say. But I wonder if you’re also feeling the same frustration I do. Right now, ad revenue isn’t affording us the luxury of large overall folios in the magazine. It kills me to slash informative sidebars and cut photos just to get it to fit within my limited page count. I’m not saying every word is a jewel. But there have been many instances in recent months where I’ve had to cut something that was truly worthwhile. I feel constrained by print. Here’s the great thing about the web: The good stuff that ends up on the cutting-room floor can have a home. I have the luxury of telling the WHOLE story. I’ve basically gone to “web-first” thinking. Knowing I have the space and ability to include all the photos, all the worthwhile text and lists of additional resources–It’s liberating! And, perhaps, more valuable to my readers. I’ll never sound the death call for print, but I foresee the day when the paper magazine is basically a teaser to the wealth of content contained online.

  22. Yeah, I like magazines. I’ll keep buying them, no matter how “online” I get, and trust me, I am all about the online.

  23. for real estate agents the battle call is location , location, location !
    For those who are going to purchase a magazine or log onto a blog site the name of the game is content, content , content.

    Horticulture magazine offers as much new inspiration, cutting edge news and ideas , and or engaging articles as an anemic compost pile.

    Print is not dead. The means of delivery is not dead whether it be a book, a magazine or a website.
    What is dead is lack of inspiration , lack of innovative view points and general lack of a strong voice that catches the public’s attention AND HOLDS IT.

    This is the reason I log onto Garden Rant on a daily and or weekly basis.
    There is CONTENT worth reading. Content worth thinking about, content worth debating about and content that inspires and motivates.

    There is no question about “where’s the beef” with Garden Rant.
    Horticulture magazine on the other hand looks, tastes, and performs like it is a vegan.
    Even the article that was written for The Rant in regards to the decline in print readership did not serve up any beef worth chewing on.
    Instead it read as a promotion piece.

    Me, cranky ? – I guess you could call me that when the plate is served up but it’s intellectually empty.

  24. donna says:

    It’s hard to tear up a website for my collages.

    Hmmm, although if I go to digital collaging, it could work…

  25. donna says:

    Oh, and Elizabeth, your personal website is wow. The hortmag page, not so much.

  26. JoAnn DellaVecchio says:

    I think this “rant” is exactly the type of fluff Garden Rant used to rant about. I don’t feel sad about the death of print. I lament a once great blog sinking this low.

  27. Genevieve says:

    I’m continually surprised that people who love to garden, and I’d hope by extension would be conservationists, cling to print.

    If there were a logging operation going in your community, you probably wouldn’t be happy to look at the barren hillsides. Then think of the gas and human labor used to cut the trees down and bring them to the processing plant. Then the energy to process just to make paper, then the energy that goes into printing, the gas used for mailing each magazine, and then the processing to recycle the damn things.

    If you try to eat locally but defend print magazines over online ones – well – it’s not a logical position, I don’t think.

    That said, I still read them – at least one of them. But once the tech catches up to where we have renewable clean energy sources and kindle-like devices that are full-color and cheap (to where you can take them out to garden with you, or into the loo), I don’t see that print will be any more comfortable or convenient.

    I’ll be happy to have my updates given more than once a month, with more and better photos, community input and comments, and the content linked together seamlessly, and with the advertising actually linking to where I can buy the product with one click. Much less overhead, much better user experience.

    I’d also like to add that online allows you to speak to a higher level, since you can bring people up to speed with linking rather than having to dumb down everything to the first-time gardener’s level. We prefer print because we’re used to it, not because it’s better.

  28. eliz says:

    Thanks to everyone for contributing to this interesting discussion. I’ve really enjoyed it.

    I wish that great content meant survival. Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so–but then look at HG. Nonetheless I am actually pretty sure that magazines will last a good long while, and many of the survivors will be the best ones. And after that our descendants have some great super-improved version of Kindle that will be just as good.

  29. Print will survive – just like free radio has 75+ years since it was declared dead. It will just have to adjust and change — those who can adapt will survive.

    As a mag editor, I adore reading mags and nothing equals the quality of a beautiful photo spread to inspire and you just won’t get that online — technology is a long way away from 300dpi on screen.

    Like Donna above, I relish ripping, saving, collaging and filing my mags — I’m a tactile person (vs auditory or visual), probably a big reason I’m also a gardener.

  30. John Hartshorn says:

    I read an article of the same title here: http://pacific-standard.blogspot.com/2009/04/print-is-dead-long-live-print.html — about a new kind of publication printed on postcards. Abe’s Penny

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