Monday, January 28, 2013

New Media - Print and its transformation

Readings for this week available here.

For fun, consider this. Brainstorm about a new magazine. What is the title, audience, layout, theme? Glossy paper? Is it a “Christian” magazine? Will you try to have a very large internet presence or not? What is a good price point? Will you start off with a large print run or not? Or will you forgo print altogether?

This week we ask the following questions: What will publishing look like in the future? Is there a future in the book?

Why is print media in trouble?
1) consumers want a rich media experience, delivered the instant they are relevant,
2) ad agencies are becoming accustomed to high standards of accountability (stats regarding page views, etc, that are available on the Internet),
3) high prices of gas, as well as high costs in the inefficient running of various levels of the publishing process,
4) issues regarding the environment and the use of natural resources.

What is the solution:
1) liquid content - content that can be delivered on any medium,
2) a relationship with customers which is more than 1-way delivery of information (interactivity).


Can you think of ebook solutions which have been able to overcome the need for the physical experience of reading books?

Some ereaders work with tiny charged particles, which are black on one side and white on the other. It very much replicates the look of paper.

“When an electric field is applied across an area of this thin sheet of frontplane material, the pigment particles within the microcapsules move in opposite directions, turning one side of the capsules in the area exposed to the electric field white, the other black. Reversing the polarity of the field makes the particles move in the opposite direction, and the white becomes black and the black becomes white.” (Hampshire 31)

This technology is promoted with the claim of little or no eyestrain, and can be looked at in all lighting conditions (except, of course, no light), and uses very little electricity, only required when a page is turned (eg. Amazon Kindle - no backlight, also similar to paper, but perhaps clumsy to work with).

“Paper-based periodicals that do persevere in North America and Europe will do so on a much smaller scale as the stylepress: physically and aesthetically engaging, vibrant creative chroniclers of trends. These will be the last printed magazines.” (Reynard 15)

"Stylepress" is a high-end medium (ie. expensive to produce and buy) which fuses the ephemeral periodical and the longsuffering book. “Such magazines are not produced; they are lived.” (Jan-Willem Dikkers, publisher of Issue magazine)

Is this a bit of an extreme view? Why should the stylepress survive?

Finally, these readings are from 2006. How has the future (2013) turned out?

PW, you will note that there is a New Media Review requirement on the syllabus, but no due date. It is due on March 11. (Anyone else reading can disregard this note - there is no assignment due for you)


Phil Wiebe said...

Title: Dispatch
Audience: Academia (primarily professors, graduate students, undergraduates, etc)
Theme: Publishing papers that would never have reached a real audience otherwise
Format: Minimalist, budget-friendly - looks like it really was printed in someone's basement
Creed: None, mainly beholden to publishing great material
Internet: Full content website, also available through Kindle/iBooks/etc
Price Point: Pricy - $10-15, subscription based website ($5/month)
Print Run: Small but heavily hyped; rarity inflates demand

On a side note, I write for a site called "Push Select" ( which is a magazine only nominally as far as form goes. Its audience is gamers who also interested in the more cerebral aspects of gaming as viewed from philosophical or communicological standpoint (that basically encapsulates the theme too). Like most websites, we're free, and will never be printed.

In the future, I think publishing in the West is going to become something of a niche industry, providing texts for collectors and connoissieur and professionals working in fields requiring physical books. Meanwhile, books will continue to be enjoyed by the populace, though more and more will be viewed on digital devices until they have the majority market share.

I agree with the sentiment that the most desirable features in content creation today are liquidity and interactivity - a result of the multimedia internet shaping our desires.

I think Kindles and their competing ilk are great, and I think this feeling is shared by a lot of readers; that said, there is no substitute for reading a book. It is the sensuously superior experience and thereby more aesthetically pleasing - with a Kindle, you only get the visual dimension of a book. A real book offers not just the text and images but also the sound of pages turning, the feel of paper on the fingers, and even the smell of book if that's what you're into (how often do you hear people say, "I love the smell of old books"). This tactile feedback may seem incidental, but physicality is important - it brings the symbolic gesture of reading into the sphere of the real. To paraphrase my favourite Firefly quote: "I like the way the pages go out. Gives you an open feeling. Book's a good design. People don't appreciate the substance of things. Objects in space. People miss out on what's solid." An ebook is just a piece of digital information; a book is an artifact.

On another side note: while I omitted the sense of taste in my sensory description since not many people lick or eat books (at least notin polite company), the iconoclastic Rogue Brewery in Oregon just brewed a beer for Powell's Books where pages from Moby Dick where added to the recipe.

Back to e-readers though: they replicate the visual dimension of books admirably and are very readable, very useful, and exceedingly pragmatic/transportable. They are the future and I would like one, regardless of how much I cherish my collection of real books.

The stylepress: this is what I spoke of a niche industry. The idea is that the content is so premium that the relevant target demographic will pay for it regardless, and the stylepress hit the nail on the head with this one. Producing intellectually, creatively, and/or aesthetically superior material inevitably aligns with the reader group that thinks itself intellectually, creatively and aesthetically superior (and coincidentally usually has disposable income) enough to place a value on those attributes above economic pragmatism. The people who buy, and will be buying, stylepress magazines are the same types who buy vinyl records or vintage books. There are coexisting airs of existential satisfaction, romantic inclinations, Veblen goods pursuit, and identity creation throughout the whole project. "Such magazines are not produced; they are lived" may be a pretentious idea, but the audience is often more than willing to take an idea like that and run with it.

Phil Wiebe said...

Despite what my comments imply, I like the stylepress and think it should survive. There's a lot of fine published material(as well as a lot of garbage) that otherwise might not see the light of day, and production values are admirable - it's nice to see some really good design on an actual page of high quality paper (my Dad was a graphic designer back in the 'good old days,' so maybe that's just nostalgia talking).

Here in 2013, we still don't have readily available, flexible, paper-style e-readers. We do have tablet-style e-readers with all the other specifications he mentioned though, and a few that he didn't, like touch screens and telecommunications connectivity. Not a bad future so far, but I'm in no rush to get rid of the book.

Nicholas Greco said...

Dispatch sounds good. I'm in for a subscription (paper, by the way). I love my iPad, but you're right that my books are much more appreciated. Plus, Roland Barthes never signed an iPad.

I should mention that the "Push Select" project is excellent. I have been loosely following the work there, and I am extremely (truly) proud. Many of the contributors are former students, and I *will* take credit whether I should or not.

So, just for curiousity (and marks, since I'm drunk with power), what is your favourite physical book? Why?

Phil Wiebe said...

I'm a compulsive buyer of used books and books often constitute the only items on my Christmas and birthday lists, so I may more than the average 21 year old to choose from.

That said, there are a few that stand out in my collection as books that I'm so happy to have that they are nearly indispensable, and all for different reasons.

On a merely content-focused, pragmatic level, I love anthologies from Wiley-Blackwell, Cambridge Companions to anything, Oxford editions of compilations, and encyclopedias on topics that interest me; like Cahn and Meskin's Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Anthology, my Cambridge Companions to Kant, Schopenhauer, and Kierkegaard, my Oxford Edition of Oscar Wilde - The Major Works, or Universe's 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die (the whole 1001 ... Before You Die series is actually pretty cool). Norton Anthologies of Poetry also hold a special place in my heart for just having so much great content and being the book I want to get my work into the most.

I'm not a rare, antiquarian, or vintage book collector in any sense but I do take some pride in owning some old, rare, or downright weird books. Namely, An Illustrated History to the Holy Bible published in 1873, my great-great-grandfather S.I. Merrill's Bible that he received at confirmation in the late 1890s (, a Masonic Bible, Jaspert, Berry, and Johnson's The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces, a smallpress first edition of Hark! A Vagrant, and the very hard-to-find Pipes: Artisans and Trademarks, which was only recently translated into English from Portuguese.

On a sentimental level, I am fond of books such as my battered copy of T.S. Eliot's Selected Poems, which I bought used for $2.50, which is full of annotations that I wrote in the margins, or the pristine copy of Ezra Pound's complete works that my sister gave to me. In fact, all books that were given to me as gifts could be mentioned here, but that would be far too many.

But if I had to pick just one book that was best purely for aesthetic reasons, I'd probably have to go with Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. The copy I have is not any old printing, it is the hardcover 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition by Blackwell. It bears a handsome dust jacket with a striking photograph of Wittgenstein's face (if Barthes and Wittgenstein had been contemporaries, I think they would have hit it off). The book itself is printed on high quality paper and is typeset in Garamond, so that's the visual level taken care of nicely. Though I bought the book used, its condition is pristine, and the pages rustle with a fine tenor. It smells like nothing, which is perfect for me since I am not a sucker for books wihh smells. It feels good in your hands, hefty but not too big, and with the choice between glossy but not slippery dustjacket and the smooth but subtly textured hardcover. But the thing that really seals the deal for this edition is that it's a double text: you can enjoy Wittgenstein's words in the original German or read the definitive G.E.M. Anscombe translation on the facing pages. It's good to know that there are still publishers out there willing to go the extra mile for publishing an outstanding edition. I don't know of any Kindle books where you can easily access two languages at the same time.