Three-D Issue 19: Print is not an input

Janis Jefferies,
Sarah Kember &
Ben Pester
Goldsmiths, University of London

As we start to see the depth of the digital transformation of the publishing industry, a motto is rising up from the ranks of independent publishers: Print is not an input.

It is spoken in directorial and editorial meetings, in master-classes about making magazines, and groups who meet to discuss the making of independent magazines and new kinds of books. Creators of invariably beautiful, ornate, niche objects of print are driven by a constant challenge to support, without replication, these objects in digital forms.

While some argue that this transformation of the publishing industry promises to entail a wholesale shift from analogue to electronic material, from the familiar materiality of text to a hypertextual, informational form, there are many who also believe that the physical object will be, and must be celebrated.

What appears to confuse the issue is that, in magazines at least, both of these views are increasingly held by the same people. Danny Miller publisher and director of creative agency the Church of London sets out in his company rhetoric that his magazines (Little White Lies and Huck) exist to ‘celebrate the physicality of print.’

However, the hypertextual make-up of these titles means that while circulation of the printed magazine runs to the tens of thousands, the digital engagement with their content runs into the millions of individual users. Church of London’s film magazine, Little White Lies is also available, for free, as an online platform which includes a website with film reviews and recommendations, a blog with opinion and other film-inspired content, illustrations and an app which uses GPS to recommend nearby films to users, and even sells them tickets.

This vast digital strategy adheres to the principle ‘print is not an input’ by making sure all content is accessible for tablets and mobiles, and going beyond a simple replica of the magazine online. The layout of the website has been designed for shorter reading periods, creating a different experience for those reading on  ‘lean forward devices’ such as a phones or a laptop, to those reading on a ‘lean back’ device (tablets and e-readers). This is a strategy that, whilst helping to celebrate the beauty of things that are printed, means that the title Little White Lies has become, in the words of its creator ‘something that can’t just be called a magazine anymore’. The rapture for print has led to such fevered digital activity that, in terms of use and visibility, it has eclipsed the printed platform.

The digital presence of Little White Lies can be viewed in contrast to a magazine made by the Slow Journalism Company called Delayed Gratification. The digital strategy for this magazine is that there is almost no digital strategy. The website is a shop-front designed to drive subscriptions to the magazine. It features a few articles from the most recent issue, an archive of the dizzying infographics used in the printed magazine and a few paragraphs on how the magazine came about and its mission to take a longer, slower view of world news. The design is modern, attractive and considered. As a shop front, it functions perfectly, no visitor is less than a click away from signing up for a 12 months subscription. The design essence of the printed magazine is everywhere. The idea is that the beauty of it hints at the possibilities of the printed magazine itself.

In this case, rather than becoming much more than its printed counterpart, the digital platform exists only in its most limited form. It is a website that makes you want to turn off your computer and read print.

Both strategies work for the magazine companies who designed them, and they exist to serve two differing business models. From the perspective of observers and the makers of these magazines, the notion of a digital revolution seems like something unconnected to the work they do. It is a narrative in part promoted by journalists and futurists, and appears steeped in a deterministic technological imaginary structured by a limited dualism of hopes and fears, utopias and dystopias. The technology is somehow disconnected from the ‘revolutionaries’ themselves, those who are in fact, engaged in the same struggle as their print-only predecessors – the struggle to adapt and survive as a viable business.

As part of a nationwide project which looks at the future of copyright in digital economies, a team at Goldsmiths, University of London are this year launching their new research ‘Whose Book is it Anyway?’ – a project which will examine emerging business models in digital publishing.

Magazines such as the two mentioned above will be among the many case studies and investigations into new forms of publishing and the way ideas are produced, written and distributed.

In the spirit of not accepting print as an input, we will be publishing much of our enquiry through emerging digital models, so the modes of our research will be reflected in the new technology we are investigating. One strand of our output, for example, will take inspiration from the 5-day book sprint facilitated in June 2012 by the V2- Institute for Unstable Media, Rotterdam. The result of this project was called New Aesthetic New Anxieties – a 72 page book (published as a PDF) authored by David M. Berry, Michel van Dartel, Michael Dieter, Michelle Kasprzak, Nat Muller, Rachel O’Reilly and José Luis de Vicente .

Our aim is to work with new publishers, and may facilitate the creation of a new magazine in a day. Or produce a repeat of the book-sprint using different publishing technology – one of many outputs for generating tablet-ready content for example – or even rapid printing.

We may take advantage of the Newspaper Club website – which uses an entirely online publishing template to make newspapers – to make a broadsheet about how the digital and the physical exist in harmony. We will ask – is it possible to make a graphic novel about copyright and digital business models, to be published on buzzcomic.com

Whilst we’ll be looking for innovative ways to produce writing outside of traditional academic markets, our investigation will spread to new application of technology in academic publishing. When talking to academic publishers, all final outputs (books and chapters) will be presented as digitally viable products, as well as something printed, perhaps even beautiful.

Having established that print is not an input, we’ll be joining the ranks of new publishers who are contributing to the constantly transforming nature of output. From kitchen table start-ups to Google-sized initiatives, the purpose of Whose Book is it Anyway? Will be to map, engage with and become part of the real digital revolution in publishing.

This project is part of the CREATe project, funded by the Research Council UK.
http://www.create.ac.uk

 

 

Posted by Einar Thorsen