I’ve heard the opinion twice in the last week alone, from two people who should know their onions, that newspapers like The Guardian are unlikely to have a printed version within two to five years. Now 80% online, and with a recently-appointed Mobile Editor to cater for the increasing numbers of people reading the content on handsets, The Guardian has led the way among the UK (and possibly worldwide) broadsheets of trying to keep up with consumer habits, so can in some ways be seen as a useful barometer for the way things are heading.
This must be the kind of news that makes print-publishers’ hearts’ sink, signalling an inevitability that print is doomed. And I expect many to question our plans to launch a print publication in South Africa, where mobile has leapfrogged the internet as a way of communicating and consuming content. I’m open to be challenged. We’ve already, on a number of occasions, had to make the argument ‘for print’ to funders in London who are looking for reasons to make savings in tightly-squeezed youth engagement budgets.
But I also think there are some key reasons why a magazine like Live – which aims to not only capture the imagination of young readers but also engage and inspire its volunteer contributors – *needs* to exist in print. Here are eight reasons why Live magazine should stay in print:
1. Engendering ownership and pride in the contributors: nothing quite beats getting a fresh printed copy of a magazine with your name and your byline, that you know is going to be distributed and read in its thousands. With a quarterly magazine, there can be a greater distance between joining and seeing your work in print (which is where digital content can have the advantage of being more immediate). But when the physical product arrives, and you can show it to friends and family, anf that’s one thing that mobile and digital publishing just can’t replicate.
2. Visual medium: as good as mobile technology gets, will it ever be able to display full-bleed photography and artwork in the way a magazine spread can? The mag format gives an opportunity to balance word and pictures in a way that can give even a low literacy barrier to enjoy the content, incorporating photo-stories, comic strips, fashion spreads…
3. Unique distribution: getting the magazine into the hands of young people can provide a unique reach and spread. It gets passed on, handed round, flicked through. It’s a physical object that sits on a table or a shelf (*obviously*), and a trusted, accessible interface to reading.
4. Encourages a culture of reading: by drawing people in with the exciting mix of content, from music, film, sport, celebrities… for basic, lapsed or reluctant readers, could this be the spark to help them start reading, or read more? Today a magazine… tomorrow a novel?
5. Teaching additional skills (design, illustration, photography, distribution, ad sales): for contributors, it’s not just about journalism and writing – there are all kind of career paths we can plug our contributors into, and we’ve never been focused on just media skills or careers. The production and distribution - and latterly, even the ad sales – of the magazine, provide a spectrum of mentoring and learning opportunities.
6. The magazine ‘experience’: linked to the benefits of a magazine being a more effective visual medium, are people yet ready to recline in a chair and read a mobile phone content channel cover-to-cover. I doubt it. And until such a time as tablets become the must-have gadget for urban teenagers (years away?), I can’t see this changing anytime soon.
7. Print ‘plus’: besides, the optimum model doesn’t exclude mobile or digital – I’m excited about the possibilities of the print channel working in tandem with mobile, occupying the best of both worlds, and capturing audiences in both.
8. Identity: Live magazine in London is defined by its geography. It represents young people in London because it literally is the voice of young people in London, evident from the image in the cover to the faces of the contributors you see dotted around the pages. Could you achieve this sense of cultural identity via mobile content?
As I wrote this post, I wondered how tenuous some of these arguments might sound. But I definitely feel that for the next few years at least, Live magazine’s printed format is crucial. So yes. I’ve convinced myself. For now.
But what strikes me, as I start to formulate the plan for Live in South Africa, is that perhaps my next task is to write an equivalent list of the top 8 reasons why the magazine should be mobile-only as well…