Print sucks

Below, I linked to Colin Crawford announcing IDG’s transition from being primarily a print to primarily a digital company a year ago and today the NY Times wrote about it. Colin follows up today on his blog and says (my emphasis):

There’s a lot to this story but one of the most important issues is that by being unburdened by print allowed the team at Infoworld the opportunity to focus on the changing needs of their customers and to develop online , event and mobile products. It’s changed the culture of that brand.

Yes, print is a burden. It’s expensive to produce for it. It’s expensive to manufacture. It’s expensive to deliver. It limits your space. It limits your timing. It’s stale when it’s fresh. It is one-size-fits-all and can’t be adapted to the needs of each user. It comes with no ability to click for more. It has no search. It can’t be forwarded. It has no archive. It kills trees. It uses energy. It usually brings unions. And you really should recycle it. Wow, when you think about it, print sucks.

  • Yes, print uses energy. But in many cases, less energy than digital delivery, Chris Anderson argues. There are facts and supporting links here:

  • Wishful thinking.
    As I remember, the coating they put on covers of magazines like Wired used to be toxic.

  • SteveSgt

    Also, you don’t need batteries, you don’t need to be near communications infrastructure, and you can use it to start the fire in your log cabin once you’re done reading.

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  • I hope, Jeff, you’ll be putting your money in close proximity to your mouth when it comes to the “book” you’re working on. And if not, that you’ll explain why not. In other words, will WWGD be printed? Or will it be available solely as a clickable, searchable, forwardable digital entity? Details please.

  • John,
    Yes, it will be printed. Those who print it are paying me. We will discuss what of it to put online when; they bought the rights. Discussing the ideas I’m exploring in the book here is incredibly helpful as the generous folks here help push those ideas (see the discussion about insurance below). One chapter will be about how books must become searchable, forwardable, linkable, correctable, virtual things.

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  • Thanks for the info. Let me see if I can parse it: If someone pays you to produce something that is printed, print is okay. If not, well…

    I don’t really disagree with anything you point out: Newsprint is expensive, squirrels die, etc. (though it will be interesting to see what sort of unions will develop in the digital world). But I’m not convinced all that can be reduced to “Print sucks.” There’s always a danger of sounding like a sclerotic, slipper-wearing Luddite when one says “I like my morning newspaper.” So I won’t even say that. I will suggest that as long as customers buy products companies keep making them. Fewer people buy newspapers (except in places like China and India, where, apparently, print doesn’t suck) but enough do to make it worthwhile for someone to produce them. Will we cross a line at some point, where it makes sense for no one to produce something cheap and disposable that you don’t mind sitting on or dropping in a puddle? Possibly, and yet even then I suspect that someone will keep making it, even if it’s a niche product, even if the cost of “printing” it is transferred to the consumer. Does that mean that news media companies should be ignoring the web? Of course not. It means that they have to ride two horses simultaneously. Awkward, yes, but the costs of jumping from one to the other too soon are as severe as the costs of jumping too late.

    I confess it bothers me that your book is going to be printed. If your argument is that more people will see your work between two covers than on a screen, that’s fine. If it’s that authors and publishers can make more money from a printed book than an online one, that’s fine too. If it’s that this is just the way these things are done, I’m cool with that. But all those arguments suggest that while print might blow, it doesn’t suck.

  • Print never needs a reboot, and if you drop it in a tub of water you can let it dry and keep reading.

    (Digital just needs to get better.) But, for now….

  • pdh

    Perhaps print doesn’t suck, but it certainly has many sucky qualities. The cost to produce and distribute print products like newspapers has begun to suck more out of some than it returns. For those responsible for the bottom lines, that sucks. For those of us who work at such places, it sucks as well.

    Still for many periodicals and publications, the suck factor hasn’t reached a point where it overwhelms all of the others reasons to continue producing. But since I work for a newspaper that is struggling financially, I can see first hand how much some print products suck. Forget about all of the touchy-feely forwardable, clickable, no-need for recyclable stuff; when it costs more to make then the company can get back, then it sucks — hard — for everyone involved.

    What I find ironic (some might even argue idiotic) is that so many of the valid criticism for why printed newspapers suck are being replicated by many newspaper companies (my own included) in their online product. To borrow Jeff’s words:

    It limits your space. It limits your timing. It’s stale when it’s fresh. It is one-size-fits-all and can’t be adapted to the needs of each user. It comes with [little] ability to click for more. It has [poor] search. And it only has an archive if you are willing to pay for access to past information that fewer and fewer people want when it is new.

    Print may suck for newspapers. But at the moment many makers of newspapers have been unable to figure out ways to make digital suck less.

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  • Zoe

    Do people really want to stare at a computer screen all day long? Magazines and newspapers are a nice respite from the glare of a monitor. The main issue is not whether people still want to read an interesting, well-designed magazine (lots of people do) — the issue, which you pointed out, is that these print publications are so expensive to produce.

    Why push for the further decline of good publications just because they don’t have the same capabilities as a blog? It’s important to have both. I don’t want to be sitting in front of my laptop all day; newspapers and magazines are easier to carry around and read wherever I am.

  • pdh

    “Why push for the further decline of good publications just because they don’t have the same capabilities as a blog?”

    I’m not sure Jeff is advocating the abandonment of print. That might explain the whole book thing. But the people at InfoWorld seem to believe that dropping the print side of their publication enhanced what they were trying to do. They made a proactive decision based on where they saw the best future for what they were doing.

    In many other area of print, the market will decide. There will be little proactive to the process. There will be cessation when the burden becomes too great. Financials from newspapers on both coasts seem to indicate that moment of market decision may come sooner rather than later. The harsh reality is that it doesn’t matter if you like to carry around a print publication. What matters is if I can afford to make one at a price you’re willing to pay.

  • Look on the bright side, with the resulting glut of paper pulp on the market, can bargain prices on adult diapers be far behind?

  • pdh

    Perhaps no one will get back to here, but in case: Just saw the NYT article on this shift. Folks at IDG were saying that their shift to online actually made them more profitable than print. They were touting 36 percent profit margin on InfoWorld after the shift. One little caveat: InfoWorld peak editorial staff during the ’90s tech boom was nearly 100. Only a few years ago it was almost 40. Today: 17.

    Best case scenario is a return to high-flying profitability only cost then a 50 percent staff reduction. Don’t want to sound self-righteous. I bet those 17 people are damn glad to still be employed. But as many at NYT are pointing out, this is the harsh reality of the switch to online.

    Yes, print sucks. But online is no romp in the hay for those that have to much the stalls.

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  • Thank you Craig for bringing my attention to this :)

    wow! i get why you would think that, but thats like saying computers suck… if you are using a commodore 64.

    Digital Print today uses state of the art algorithms to generate 100% customized 100% individual material. A smart marketer isn’t doing blind unaddressed mailers with less that 2% ROI, they are doing Fully custom, targeted mailers with better than 80% ROI.

    A REAL smart marketer is combining the best of Social Media and the best of Digital Print.

    Two words, Variable Data. Google it :) or check out my blog… I promise to post all the good stuff about GOOD PRINT, early next week.

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