I’ve been reading screed after screed about the end of print recently. And by recently, I mean for the past two years. There seem to be two camps; there are those who say “print has more meaning, damn it! And it won’t die, because I love it! We will just soldier on, more or less unchanged!” and there are those who say “the writing is on the wall. The internet and the depression will eat print alive.”
I understand why people are concerned about this. I mean, if someone where to ask me what I do, when it really comes down to it, I’d probably say “I make zines.” But people started screaming that the magazines were dying just as I started SteamPunk Magazine, the popularity of which popularity exceeded my expectations by such leaps and bounds that it literally restructured my life. So I guess I’m gonna weigh in on this debate.
It’s probable that the traditional methods of book-making and distributing are screwed, or at least will be forced to change. But I think it’s a decentralization, not a disintegration. Small publishers are being hit, but not nearly as hard. People still read books. With magazines… one thing I realized is that the role of magazine as a source of timely information is an outdated one. Journals are more appropriate: when everyone else gets their news off the internet or word-of-mouth from those who do, reading about something three months later is pretty much useless. But analysis, like Rolling Thunder provides, is as useful as always. And it still provides a historical record.
I don’t want to come off as social-darwinistic or anything, but I think that the reason so many magazines and publishers are failing is that because they’re dinosaurs and they need to adapt or go extinct. So many publishers, radical or not, have fallen into complacence. You can see the fearful, baby-step adoption of the internet… anarchist publishers selling their PDFs. And they wonder why they’ve become irrelevant to modern culture… information tends towards freedom. And when a product costs nothing to reproduce, charging for it seems more and more ludicrous… particularly coming from radicals.
So where does that leave us? What are radical publishers to do? Keep costs down. Stop paying yourself so much, or if need be, at all. Don’t print massive runs… print shorter runs that you know you can sell. Sell directly online, and make your PDFs available for free; the additional readership you get from offering your digital product for free will greatly increase your print sales. Yes, yes, I’m promoting the method that I myself use. But it works.
But the reason that print won’t die is that we don’t want it to, so we’ll keep doing it. I started publishing zines by losing money, not making money, and I’m not the only one. We’ll keep at it, whether or not it pays our rent. Because people make things and they want to share them.