We are not seeing the ‘retirement of print’. We are seeing the evolution of print. Some print mainstays will be hard hit – the newspaper, mostly. This disposable, emotionless (unless you’re reading the Telegraph or Herald Sun) loudspeaker of ever-ticking headlines need not be printed. It may even be better for the environment if it wasn’t. The newspaper dinosaur is yawning. There are so many excellent online news sites that have surpassed the pitiful quality of our two national media outlets – on our own turf, Crikey and New Matilda; for the Yanks, Huffington Post. These are publications of the New World that have scrabbled away for years, fighting to be recognised, and are now joining the ranks of the often inferior majors in question times and media lock-ins. And with such little competition we are lucky that they are there.
So what remains amenable to print? The novel, yes. The history book, questionable. As broached in the question, the novel was considered and still definitely is entertainment. We will always want to cuddle up with a book. You simply can’t take a Kindle in the bath. But when we want factual information we will go online.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we are 3D. We have an innate connection with the physical dimension. The tangible, touchable world is the essence of our very existence. Within this are our collections – our clothes, our gardens, our heirlooms, our taxidermied fish. Now for all you Matrix fans out there, let’s get one thing straight – I’m talking about the sham you long to expose. The world of expensive sandwiches and tiny baby shoes and 12-year-old scotch. I like this sham, so this is what we’re talking about right now, not quantum physics. So. I don’t trust my existence to the digital world. I’m no Steve Urkle but I’m pretty sure not every blog is a safe archive, or something that actually can be uncovered by ‘archeologists’ – often I come across ‘dead’ pages. The lack of physicality poses an innate threat to the lifespan of documentation. It also takes away from the pleasure of owning (there must be a German word for that). Even though I have a conveniently perpetually amassing Facebook photo album, I still like to get photographs printed every now and again. And I enjoy having the albums on my shelf. I still like to collect beautiful objects or things that have a deeper meaning to me. I like to show them off, show them to others to help explain who I am; keep them as a reminder of that person as I go through life and change. This impulse is why print will never die.
But print will change. As a publisher whom is very fond of the medium, I think it will make it better. Because printing is so cheap now, to do it offshore, and learning to use incredible design software is exceedingly popular, more people are doing it. More artists are making books, more students are making journals. The quality is getting better because it has to survive, and that’s what people have come to expect. You can’t tell the difference between what is a large-scale publication and what is made in a bedroom. Ask the photographer from the Sydney Morning Herald who came to photograph me last week – he couldn’t believe his eyes when I led him to my bedroom (that sounds weird but it wasn’t like that – you get me). I see more and more amazing publications, with such beautiful print qualities, innovative design and acting as a conduit of free thought. This is the evolution, and it shouldn’t be feared.
Alice Gage is the editor of Ampersand Magazine.