Bring the Seductive Temptress Mistress Named “Digital” Into the Print Family… The Mr. Magazine™ M.O. Column in Publishing Executive Magazine

December 13, 2012

Picture 1

A Fickle Mistress
The best way to legitimize digital is to recognize the primacy of print.

Rebecca Darwin, president and CEO of Garden & Gun Magazine, was a speaker at this year’s ACT III Experience at the University of Mississippi and is adamant in her belief in print. She agreed with Mary Berner, the new president and CEO of MPA The Association of Magazine Media, in saying it is “absolutely the case” that we need to stop apologizing for magazines.

Print is the cornerstone of publishing, and while it uses and complements additional bricks in the pavement, it is the piece that holds the publishing family together. It is the mortar that binds. It is proven and sustainable, the beginning and end when it comes to publishing. All things in between— digital, iPads, mobile, etc.—are mere daughters, sons and cousins of print. In the boudoir of many publishing houses, you will find the temptress Digital roaming the halls.

Many successful publications develop the itch to stray from their magnanimous partner, Print, and fall into the beguiling arms of Digital by herself, without that root of print, just because everyone else is doing it. My thoughts on this: Never be a follower, always be a leader. Newsweek will prove me right about that. It’s only a matter of time. And speaking of Time, try telling that highly successful publication it doesn’t need print in its family portrait.

What I am getting at here is this: Digital is not for every magazine or publication on the newsstands. Does In Style really need an app to showcase those long-legged, beautiful models with their designer clothes draped across their bodies? I think not. Print knows how to treat a lady. And then there are the technical issues: Downloads that are huge and take forever to load. Resolution problems. Controls that are very slow to respond. Pagination issues; the list goes on.

Picture 2 With print, you have no such problems. But what you do have is a high-quality publication that feels fantastic in your hands. It’s all about the experience. If magazines were only an exercise in reading, then digital would be fine and dandy. However, true magazines are experience-makers and not just content providers.

Digital will never give you the same involvement and individual ecstasies that Print will. She can’t, because while she’s seducing you, she’s enticing others simultaneously. But that single copy magazine or publication that you’re holding in your hands at that moment belongs only to you. You are the only one touching, feeling and holding it. A very, very different experience, indeed.

Why do we continuously underestimate the power of print in this digital age? If we can imagine a day when print may no longer exist, why do we not imagine the reverse; a day when digital may disappear? It’s a valid question. It stands to reason that if one entity can become extinct, so could another. We must realize that possibility.

“A magazine is a print or digital publication trusted by its readers or users to provide credible, timely information, relevant to their personal interests,” Sid Holt, the executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors, said at the Act III Experience. “Magazines are characterized by the use of print or digital technologies to create a visually rich, immersive experience and are published or updated frequently in a consistent format.” Holt himself admitted that that was quite a mouthful, and ended by saying there really was no way to define exactly what a magazine was.

What we can say, though, is all shades of user desire must be considered. Why do media insist on having a digital love affair, when what needs to happen is to legitimize Digital and bring her into the fold? The publishing family is stalwart and capable of supporting Digital in all her adventurous endeavors. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Print would just as soon have Digital as its daughter, instead of its illicit companion. We must remember that old adage: The grass is not always greener on the other side. Bringing Digital into the family fold is the only possible answer that makes sense. She doesn’t have to be on the outside looking in, and print doesn’t have to hide her away from the ink and paper it’s married to, banishing her in shame forever.

It’s just not necessary.

Republished from the Nov./Dec. 2012 issue of Publishing Executive magazine.



  1. Fantastic article with really outstanding insights. I for one have never bought into the myth that “print is dead”. According to the data from MRI’s latest Fall 2012 release (compared to the 2012 Spring release) — Across the 183 national magazines measured in both releases, Total Print Audience, on average, increased 1.3%. 118 magazines showed increased audiences, 64.5% of all released magazines.

    • Thank you Sam for the information and kind words. All the best.

      • My pleasure Samir. Keep up the great work! I have been following you for 20 years now. We need more like you to continue to champion the magazine cause! BEST REGARDS!SB

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