Graydon Carter at the Vanity Fair kickoff part...
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Graydon Carter, a renowned magazine editor, recently published an editorial claiming that print isn’t dying and won’t die any time soon, citing as evidence the fact that people like long-form content and that the circulation of his magazine Vanity Fair is up both via subscription and at the newsstand.

Pardon me while I shift metaphors.

Print isn’t dying. It’s just being demoted severely in the communication business.

Carter’s circulation improvements are largely accomplished through severe discounting. For instance, I can get a subscription to Vanity Fair on Amazon for $15.00, marked down from the $59.40 full price. And I can get it for free in a lot of other venues.

Print used to be top-dog. Now it’s clearly a subordinate. It’s been given the window seat at the Japanese company.

So, you’re right, Mr. Carter, print isn’t dying. But it’s no longer the boss, and it’s working for others now, as your own essay notes when you say that longer articles score higher on your Web site. Do you know why? Because there are more search terms in longer articles, not because people necessarily like longer content.

Those long articles are working for Google now.

You can hold on to your death metaphors, Mr. Carter, and, when print falls short of the grave, claim it’s just as vibrant as it used to be. But I’d suggest that’s the kind of blinkered thinking that could get you demoted as well.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


4 Thoughts on "OK, Print Isn’t Dying — But It’s Definitely Not the Boss"

The “is print dead” discussion obviously remains very much alive. But with all due respect to those who continue to engage in it, I’d submit that this debate asks the wrong question, especially in scholarly communication. I’d also remind everyone that we’ve been chattering on about it for 15 years, with print always being “five years” away from its demise.

Having been an editor and a publisher, I know that even as print shrinks from the broad communications landscape, certain realities (ie, subscription pricing, distributor agreements, institutional politics, habit, culture, tenure committees), conspire to assure that it will persist for certain purposes for a while yet, and maybe for a very long while at that. That’s because print is not just a medium — it’s a mindset. So the very framing of the debate steers us away from the real point.

I’d suggest that what we should be focusing on is how to optimize service to our audiences, and enhance scientific discourse and communication, by truly leveraging the best tools available to us, and not by just tweaking the margins of what remains a fairly rigid scholarly publishing model.

I completely agree, Bill. That’s why I wanted to shift the metaphor from “print is dying” to “print is demoted.” I like your comment that print is a mindset — it’s too true. That’s probably the primary reason why others are leveraging the best tools available, or making them out of whole cloth, while we continue to peddle articles. There will always be a place for that, but it’s not the place it once was.

Here’s another metaphor shift: print is changing from a noun to a verb.

Print is less and less a description of what our content _is_, and becoming more and more something we _do_ with it (when we want to).

I keep making “old timer” comments on this blog, but I really can’t resist this one. Many of us in scholarly publishing can remember the agonizing SSP discussions in years past when journal publishers were still clinging to print and saying, in effect, “do I really have to go online? will anybody pay for it?” But for some years now, that tune has inverted to “do I really have to keep producing print? will anybody pay for it?” For most of _those_ publishers, print is, ideally, one of many things their users _do_ with their content. (And they do that less and less, I might add.) But it is much more appealing to leave that to the end user. The same thing is starting to happen now with scholarly monographs: it’s called POD (Print On Demand). Will it happen with novels? Yes for some, no for others. IT’S NOT BINARY!

–Bill Kasdorf

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