December 16, 2013

The internet in print


shutterstock_120087835The going hasn’t been so easy for print media lately. New York magazine recently announced that it would be cutting back to biweekly issues in March, causing editor-in-chief Adam Moss to remark, “We’ve talked about this for a while and you can’t help but get wistful about it.” Last year, Newsweek transitioned to an all-digital format. This is the “[c]onventional media wisdom” in 2013, Matt Pearce pointed out on Jacket Copy Friday: that print is dying.

His piece, though, takes another tack. Called “Online publications see a future in print,” Pearce’s article isolates several online outlets who have made the choice to print books and magazines with both repeated and original content:

Indie-music kingmaker, which has spent 17 years publishing on the Web, just launched a quarterly print edition. The Los Angeles Review of Books, which began on Tumblr in 2011, recently celebrated the release of the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal, while intellectual online journal The New Inquiry is planning a print anthology. This fall, the feminist site Jezebel, an arm of the Gawker Media empire, published “The Book of Jezebel”—an “illustrated encyclopedia of lady things”—and teen girl website Rookie published its second “Rookie Yearbook.”

It may seem to be an illogical reversal in a media landscape which steadily turns digital, but Pearce defines this as “format fetishism,” not unlike the contemporary return to music on vinyl and cassette. Rachel Rosenfelt, editor-in-chief of New Inquiry, points out the difference in the generation coming of age:

There’s been a lot of discussion of the transition in one direction: print to digital. . . . But this is the first generation of people who have always been digital, moving in the other direction.

Put this way, the apparent reversion makes more sense, and the other editors to whom Pearce spoke seem to feel the same. Hazlitt‘s Chris Frey invoked “intimacy,” “permanence,” and “presence”; Chris Kaskie, president of Pitchfork, said,

You own MP3s, but you don’t own them. You read an online magazine on the Internet, but you can’t pick it up.

The goal, he went on, is “to make something someone will want to have on their shelf, just like a record.”

We want something to keep. Even for those of us who grew up online, it is difficult to really believe in its permanence; printed media and other “analog” formats appeal to that slight, nagging feeling of transience in trying to save impressions from an ever-changing place.

In an October interview with Hazlitt‘s Haley Mlotek, Tavi Gevinson of Rookie summoned the same feelings—of palpability and presence—in reference to her newest print publication, Rookie Yearbook Two:

I think the website is the best format for having a community and making it accessible to people. I think the print version is just a way to make that feel more tangible and special, maybe a little aesthetically indulgent. We attract the kinds of readers who value something you can hold in your hands.


Emma Aylor is a former Melville House intern.