A great question was recently posed by Elizabeth Grimaldi, Executive Director of The Village of Arts and Humanities here in Philadelphia. They recently released a fantastic magazine, CRED, which features all youth submissions. It’s amazing. Check it out.

Some  people have questioned why we decided to make CRED in print, instead of online in an age where the publishing industry is facing being obsolete, and where youth are such a high-tech generation. We’re really open to a broad range of opinions and responses – do you think that CRED is an outdated mode of communication? If not, why is print media relevant to today’s youth?

The question really had my mind racing. To me, the obvious and somewhat superficial answer is “of course its still relevant!” Then I paused and wondered how well the magazine is, in fact, doing. They just released the inaugural issue and it looks amazing. I don’t have a copy…. and I really want one. That gap caused me to dig a little deeper and write.

 

The Shift in Distribution and Consumption

Right now, across all industries, the impact of technology is causing a shift in both distribution and consumption of information. Be it news, music, entertainment, or education, how we receive and subsequently consume is changing. Publishers are scrambling to find ways to protect intellectual rights, utilize new mediums, and monetize efficiently. For the most part, it has been a messy process to watch. With Moore’s Law in full effect, the speed at which technology is advancing is mind-blowing. It really is. It is exciting and entertaining but perhaps a lot of the excitement is really rooted in its novelty. Each new website and gadget is so impressive… until the next best thing comes out. However, currently, the next best thing keeps coming! Is now the time to invest in a Kindle? Should I wait for the iPhone 6 before making the plunge into Apple products? Should I finally commit myself to using Twitter and Foursquare? Only time will tell which technologies will truly stand the test of time. When you pull away the the layers of novelty though, you start to see there are basic human principles that are underlying their success, the need to communicate and interact.

As a way of communication, the printed word is often considered to be a perfect technology. It has existed long enough to endure countless tweaks to create a piece of technology that is so integrated into our society, at best we are able to mimic it. That said, are there in fact room for improvements in this perfect technology? I think there are two components that need further exploration: Consumption Methods and Engagement Potential.

 

1. Consumption Methods

How we consume information has changed drastically and as a result, how we relate to it. While nothing takes the place of reading a great book by the fireplace, it is hard for me to justify lugging one around with me all day long. It also depends heavily on the experience the producer wishes to create. With music, do I really need to listen to an album in its entirety to appreciate the artist’s intention? For a magazine like CRED, do I need to hold it in my hands to truly appreciate its impact. Although I do not have my own copy, there was definitely something special about flipping through a few pages. Perhaps, as producers, there needs to be a firm stance on the desired consumption method to truly create the experience desired for the end-user. That said though, there needs to be careful consideration in the distribution of the information so that it can even reach the desired consumption experience.

I find myself a bit puzzled at times. In the example of the great CRED magazine, as I mentioned, the reality is that I still do not have a copy. I really want one. However, I cannot justifiably place the blame solely on the producers. At this point, I am so used to information arriving via my inbox or RSS feeds that I have a hard time adjusting my routine to seek out something new. Think about it. For the most part, a large portion of the population is receiving “new” ideas by trolling their Facebook wall. To the magazine’s credit, there is a full listing of various places throughout the City I can grab a free (yes FREE) copy but that would mean changing my route or creating a full-blown errand.

In the past, the subscription model addressed distribution. However, there are cost-barriers and considerations that do not always make sense. So I am not simply suggesting that solution. But this gap in receiving information must be thought through. Considering the shift in consumption, it is important to acknowledge that people have changed how they consume and put pieces in place to meet them halfway. Maybe a network of distribution directly to schools and teachers is needed. Maybe copies of magazines need to be placed directly in giveaway bags at concerts. The possibilities are limitless but of course the work is a bit daunting.

 

2. Engagement Potential

I hate website comments. On “news” articles and on TV shows, everywhere consumers have the option to “comment.” Asides from niche markets and member-only sites, we know to expect the usual rantings of racism, homophobia, and just plain idiocy. It’s ridiculous and we all know it. However, what we do see is the benefit of potential engagement. In the past, often media became a one-way experience. You either produced or consumed. Now there is potential for the consumers to respond to the producers or even take it a step further and produce themselves, perhaps incorporating the original production. The production/consumption model has become more complex and this throws emerging print materials in the midst of this transition. How can print media contribute to and perhaps facilitate this potentially valuable interaction? In the future, will print media have electronic components built in with web chats and holograms? QR codes, electronic versions of materials, and supplementary online material have all explored ways to bridge this gap but there is ample room for further innovation.

In conclusion, if you have not checked out CRED magazine, please do so. It is a high quality piece of work that transcends the usual call to “support” mediocre material. Also, let us keep exploring ways to curate and cultivate this transitional and exciting period in media production and consumption. Feel free to engage and continue this conversation.

  • davina’

    I just want to touch on two points:

    1) where i hear about the industry changing and how most pple are now accessing their information online I always wonder how many people this actually pertains to. There is still an access and tech divide in many cities and rural areas in the US and i can’t speak to the condition in other countries but i would guess that they too ace challenges. Especially under resourced nations. So, i would assume that books will be around for a while unless the technology truly becomes more accessible. So, should the end product be catered to those consumer needs or will the industry take on a catch up if you can position?

    2) most of my work is created to be performed live. by myself but also the consumer. So, what would be a good mode to meet to market? i like audio books so podcasts make sense. ebooks make sense but when we stage plays and dramatic readings, those texts are essential to hold in your hand to mark up during rehearsals. i realize texts can also be manipulated for this very purpose electronically but i haven’t embraced actually utilizing it in that way. My reasons are partially nostalgic lol.

    At any rate, the technology is changing and so is the market and as an artist I do now have to be more strategic about the form my content will take in order to not only maximize profits but to also ensure that the end result meets my initial creative intent and that’s for people to read the work aloud and perform it as they see fit.

    • nathan

      Great points and questions…

      I think your first point could be divided into two pieces:

      1a) The demand for these new technologies will continue to rise, at least for a while. As publishers continue to find ways to increase profitability, attention will shift more to that side of the market. What has been interesting to watch, for example, is the rise of iPhones in poorer communities. More and more are using iPhones as their only computer and subsequent Internet connection. With that increase in demand, the price of the phones are dropping, the range of low-cost options is increasing, and the data plans are adjusting constantly. The demand will drive technologies and the access.

      1b) But with regards to access , you rise a good question. From a profit stand-point, there needs to be enough demand to keep the business of printing books worthwhile. Honestly, I think the physical book, again as a perfected technology, will never die out but we may see some interesting issues arise in relation to access. For example, if publishers do not see enough demand and start to limit the physical production of certain texts, that could really become an access issue. It has already begun to happen. BUT, the next step in that logic is to explore what device manufacturers are doing to counter this trend or more specifically, capitalize on the market that is potentially still accessible through the divide. Apple just announced their textbook store (http://www.apple.com/education/ibooks-textbooks) and while I’m not 100% on the details, I believe they are capping the cost of the books at $15. That has the potential to be a HUGE game changer (says the grumpy MBA student that has to shell out $100s every semester).

      2) So with all that said, I think there is tremendous potential to shape the consumer experience in relation to one’s work. There will need to be some compromise, but the very real potential exists to have a product that simply adapts to various markets (digital, physical books, etc) while also providing an even more precise experience through the medium of the author’s choice. This will, however, take some very strategic thinking. Just to tease out your one example, audiobooks are popular but only reach certain demographics and, of course, come with their own limitations. Is this the ideal? It could be. Or is it audio, coupled with mood lighting, available on DVD and/or custom lamp along with instructions to close one’s eyes and just absorb the light as they listen. The range of possibilities has been opened wide for producers of content various technological advances (not just computer-based) but we often stick with what we were familiar with. At one point, audiobooks were a crazy new idea too.

      I think across the board, it is a great time for artists and content producers to share their true vision while monetizing.

      Thanks for commenting!!

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