Sunday, 24 January 2016

Trends in Publishing - iPad Killed the Magazine Kid?

The world of print publishing is changing -- but it isn't what you think. Though media reports, print news outlets, and plain view indicate the rapid shift from print to digital, the change is a little more complex than it appears.

Yes, certain types of publishing are suffering -- newspapers, broad interest consumer magazines, and technical manuals are more commonly sought by URL than by newsstand, but others are sustaining and even growing. Trade journals, B2Bs, specialty publications, and creative non-fiction publications are managing and in some cases growing, which says a great deal about who is producing and reading them. The one irrefutable fact about publishing, however, is that it is changing.

Demographics aren't the only factor when considering who is turning to digital, and who is clinging to the "real thing," though I am curious what will happen when a third of trade workers retire in the next ten years and young people take their places. For trade journals, the global economy, natural resources extraction trends, employment, and capital investment have had a greater effect on the ability to sustain publication in print than has general trends in digital printing.

Trade journals and B2B magazines are highly focused, niche publications with content generally technical in nature and created at least in some part by the people who work in the industry served by the publication. Readers expect (demand?) high quality material they can't find anywhere else, and they are (usually) willing to pay to see it -- sometimes through subscriptions but more commonly through advertising. B2B publications fall in the same category and though most trade and B2B magazines have integrated some kind of website, eNews, social media, and virtual engagement strategies, the final product is generally a well-integrated, more robust platform for timely and relevant industry news.

Creative non-fiction and specialty publications such as photo journals, annuals, and themed issues stay at the top of the popularity heap because they are special, one-of-a-kind, colourful treasures everyone wants to read and no one wants to recycle. They occupy the same space in conversation and, later, on the shelf, as a great book and because of this even the strictest digital reader is tempted by their rarity and powerful physical presence.

The fact that the newspaper industry is suffering so is testament to the type of material that is falling out of favour in print and rapidly being consumed into the vortex of digital media. Short, fast, consumable bits of news, advice, non-technical how-tos, pop culture gossip, broad spanning special interest (ie; fitness, cooking, sewing, automotives, sports), and localized information are easily uploaded, linked, cross-referenced, and refreshed in record time. By the time information like this is gathered, edited, laid out, edited again, sent to press, and distributed in print, the relevance has changed.

Whether a magazine is suffering or growing, its vision has had to change in the Age of Digital. First for visibility (the magazine needed a website), then accessibility (the magazine was consumed online and by many different sizes of device), and now for abundance (web-only content is necessary, and varies dramatically from print content). This shift forces publishers, editors, and journalists to innovate and be more flexible and to produce more integrated and dynamic publications--or go the way of the Blackberry.

Employment is changing -- web editors, social media editors, and a higher-than-historically-proportioned number of correspondents are popping up all over the place, and remote, project-based working arrangements are more plausible and help publishers save a dime on overhead. In the same vein of innovation and flexibility, "old school" journalists who can't work a tablet or focus in a home office environment truly struggle.

The Trowel, in print since 1953, has seen its
ups and downs. Photo courtesy of Point One Media.
I should mention book publishing -- this is also my field, though only perhaps five per cent of my work. eReaders had a surprisingly rough entry into the marketplace, garnered brief initial interest before being shunned by the die-hards (read: almost everyone) and virtually disappearing for a while. Over the past five years they've returned with a vengeance sending print publishing for a nosedive.

This article, published in January 2015, discusses the some predictions in digital book publishing that are interesting and have proven mostly true. Later in 2015, the eBook industry reported its first significant decline in five years, and has since levelled off, which is an interesting trend that says a lot about novelty and convenience, and the resilience of the book as one of many antidotes for the high-stress, super busy, mega rushed lives we live. For many, reading a book on a computer is like speed walking through a museum or taking a bubble bath at top speed -- they are meant as mechanisms for unwinding, losing oneself, escape. That said, the economics tell a strong tale for eBooks, though it will likely stay flexible and dynamic, much like certain elements in magazine publishing.

The biggest trend is eBook publishing for editors (that's me!) is self-publishing or "vanity press" where authors print and distribute their own work. It has always been a thing, but has, with the eBook rise, become more common. This certainly has its perks and its downfalls, and I am curious about its long-lasting effect on the quality of literature available in the world.

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