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Digital and On-Line is NOT the New Cemetery Plot for Print… and BoSacks Speaks Out. YOU BE THE JUDGE

August 25, 2011

Lately the pace of magazines announcing the folding of their ink on paper editions while continuing to publish on-line has increased. To those folks I have three words: YOU ARE DEAD. There is no ifs or buts about it. YOU ARE DEAD.

Any magazine, that existed in ink on paper, and cannot survive in its original medium is DEAD. If a magazine loses its two sources of revenue, the readers and the advertisers, how on earth it is going to survive by the mere change of the platform? Do magazine publishers really think they can save money by not printing and distributing the ink on paper publication and can get the advertisers back just by transforming their publication to digital only? They better think twice.

For one, to create a digital publication, with all the bells and whistles digital requires, that cost is going to overcome the cost of printing and distribution. Replicas of print, no matter how many pluses you can add to them, are still replicas and are not serving the purpose and capabilities of what digital can provide. A good new medium deserves a good business model and a new way to present content; not just being a replica of another medium. Digital publications that are well done and produced are going to be much more expensive to create than similar ink and paper magazines. Think the cost of good video and audio and additional photo-shoots to provide more content to that ease of swiping touches of the screen!

In addition to that, if your ink on paper magazine drops in circulation, regardless of the many reasons that exist out there (competition, time, bombardment of information, you name it) what makes a publisher think that just moving to digital will eliminate the aforementioned problems and will wipe up all the reasons for the readers’ departure in the first place. Same can be said about the advertisers. The advertisers are not having the problem with the medium, but with its reach. Do you think a digital only (after years of being in print) will be easier to attract and keep readers, and thus provide customers to the advertisers? Think twice. Remember the old saying, out of sight, out of mind.

So do yourself and the industry a favor. If your magazine is losing its audience and its advertisers, let it rest in peace. Do not torture the old soul and send it to live in the digital world only. You will soon discover that the digital world is not a resting cemetery plot for your magazine. It is a torture chamber that will lead to a very slow death. Just check with the many titles who used digital as an excuse to fold their print editions over the last ten years or so. Do you know where they are now? DEAD.

So if you can’t reinvent your magazine (which by the way is still a very good and viable option), in its original medium and make it necessary, sufficient and relevant (the three holy ingredients needed for any magazine to survive), than take the bold step and KILL the magazine. Do not torture the poor soul any longer. It must have served you well during its years of glory. Digital only is not the way to reward the memory of a good departed friend.

Digital and on-line only are new media, so treat them that way. They deserve a different treatment and can produce wonderful products. Replicas of print they are NOT. Cemeteries for print they are NOT. They are new media and we better treat them as such. If you consider yourself a creative person, why can’t you be an innovator and not a renovator?

And, here I go again, one last time, the problem with print today is not digital or on-line. The problem with print is the content we are producing for print. It is the message that has the problem and not the messenger. So rather than torturing the poor soul and transferring the same message to digital from print, recheck that message and pay attention on what each medium can provide. It does not take a genius to do that. Just some common sense.

Addendum… Addendum… Addendum… Bob Sacks Responds to Samir Husni’s Blog Entry…
Here he goes again… my friend Bob Sacks wrote a rant in his electronic newsletter based on his understanding of my blog entry. In my opinion, Bob failed to see my main point regarding print and digital: If a magazine is failing in print, folding the print edition and moving to digital only, is not going to save said magazine.

Here is Bob’s response. Judge for yourself and feel free to comment below:

My Friend Samir has written a rant of monumental proportions which I have printed below. I think the hot weather in Mississippi has been too much for him, or perhaps the latest announcements of many magazines closing or moving onto the web as solo digital products was just too much for him to handle.

He says: “Lately the pace of magazines announcing the folding of their ink on paper editions while continuing to publish on-line has increased. To those folks I have three words: YOU ARE DEAD. There is no ifs or buts about it. YOU ARE DEAD”

To me that comment is at best, grandly excessive. Going to the web is not death nor anywhere near it. It is joining the future of the publishing platform. Several national research analysts like Forrester Research and mediaIDEAS have come to some very similar conclusions that by 2020, 60% of publishers revenue will be from digital sources and 40% from print. They go on to announce that there will still be billions of dollars of print revenue for publishers and printers alike. That is nothing to be ashamed of, and I would like just a sliver of that printed revenue pie. But it also means that there is not only life for publishers on the web but also an opportunity for very great prosperity.

Samir goes on to suggest that: “to create a digital publication, with all the bells and whistles digital requires, that cost is going to overcome the cost of printing and distribution.” I do not believe that to be an accurate statement at all. It does depend upon what niche title you are publishing. If in the 21st century your subject is best stated and covered with video, then staying in print will not help you when your competitors are soaking up your entire old readership on the web.

But bells and whistles are not the be-all and the end-all. I believe that our true franchise is words and they can be reproduced on any substrate. The New Yorker is doing quite well without any bells or whistles with their iPad app with just damn good words and an occasional B/W cartoon. That is, of course, a print and web success story, but there are hundreds of web-only success stories too.

I could go on all night here, but let me close with the following thought. Print will survive quite nicely, but it isn’t going to be the predominant way that people will read. In all likelihood print will be a coveted and expensive luxury item.

There is much life, vibrancy and tons of money to be made on the web. To suggest that it is the burial ground for print publishers is totally off base. As I have said before, it is the first inning of a double header and there is only one out.

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9 comments

  1. Bravo Prof. Husni! Digital is its own separate medium and deserves to have all of the available tools (Video, Audio, Flash, Shopping Cart, ID security, etc.) that it can. I LOVE print and will never abandon it for a Laptop, tablet or smart phone version alone. There are still many pluses to print that digital cannot replicate (Bookmarks that you can see from across a room, having the ability to swap back and forth between separate articles or graphics with your fingers at the same time, placing the publication in a viewing area, desk, coffee table, etc. for future reference specifically to itself, rolling the publication up and swatting a fly…..just kidding here!). Seriously, Print and Digital can exist together effectively, just give us good reasons to have both, not one or none.


  2. Samir: Your comment: “To those folks (Who leave print to go on the web) I have three words: YOU ARE DEAD. There is no ifs or buts about it. YOU ARE DEAD”

    I suggest that your statement which contains wonderful and great passion for print, is clearly not correct. Some will live and some will die. That is the true way of all life and all business.

    “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
    J.R.R. Tolkien


  3. My dear Bob
    You are reading words that do not exist in my blog. I said magazines that are folding their print edition and staying only in the digital sphere are dead. Digital is not going to save a dying print magazine.
    Samir


  4. [...] Lately the pace of magazines announcing the folding of their ink on paper editions while continuing to publish on-line has increased. To those folks I have three words: YOU ARE DEAD. There is no ifs or buts about it. YOU ARE DEAD. Any magazine, that existed in ink on paper, and cannot survive in its original medium is DEAD. via Mr. Magazine. [...]


  5. [...] migrating out of print and into purely digital editions, print loyalists are stirred to speak. Samir Husni recently published a post in which he argued that if a magazine that started in print fa…: Any magazine, that existed in ink on paper, and cannot survive in its original medium is DEAD. If [...]


  6. As a regular reader of your blog, I believe that all you are saying is that if a magazine’s edit product is broken, it doesn’t matter what delivery platform it is put on. It won’t work. The TV industry learned that long ago. Moving to cable didn’t make a bad show better. I am a huge Warren Buffet fan. His famous saying that “a bad idea is a bad idea” is apropos here.

    Jim Elliott


  7. Prof. Husni,
    I have to agree with you. I’m reminded of an old saying, “no matter where you go, there you are”. We can never get away from ourselves, no matter the location. Thank you for the interesting read, as always.
    Kim Hamlin


  8. […] as stated by Samir Husni, known in the industry as “Mr. Magazine,” if done well, will be much more expensive to create than similar ink and paper magazines.  Be that as it were, for reasons such as “subject matter, frequency, editorial turnaround time, […]



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