When it came down to choosing this week’s topic I actually had to run through my archives and see if I ever happened to write about this before. I’m sure there has been mention of it here and there but I have never officially talked about Print vs. Online and gone into detail about the differences between the two. I have worked for both online and print simultaneously for years now and have definitely done so long enough to form solid opinions on both. I have had multiple covers, written countless articles and had hundreds of photos published. Honestly, I guess when it comes down to it I am pretty torn between the two, but we will get into that a little bit later on. For now, we all can agree that print is taking on a new shape and the online world has been doing just that since the Internet went public in 1989. Take a few minutes and dive into what will be my first time openly discussing this subject in any kind of actual detail.
Since print has been around for much longer than the internet/online world I decided to show some respect to the printed word and talk about it first. Also, I can’t really hide the fact that I love print. I always have, and I always will. Here’s the deal though, I have two separate lists of points that I plan on talking about for each so I’m just going to go through the list and say a bit about each specific point that I wanted to mention. For one, print is more permanent. There is no denying that, and there is no arguing that. If the world went to shit at this very moment and there was no more electricity, no computers, and no Internet guess what would still be around? Yes, your prized magazine collection sitting on your bookshelf somewhere or, in box in your attic or basement gathering dust. The truth is, no one can argue that. Sure, we can speculate that the Internet will be around forever and continue to have a hold of the majority of the world but that just can’t be guaranteed. The thing that can be though, is the fact that short of the world bursting into flames, or suddenly being overcome with weather so wild that a printed book or magazine had no chance of survival, printed magazines and books will still be around.
The printed word has also always been looked at as more “official” than the online version simply because literally anyone with access to a computer can share their thoughts, and voice their opinions online while it typically (although there are exceptions of course) takes an actual journalist to get their words in print. On that note, there is typically much more of an editing process that comes along with print. This means that not only does the writer initially write, spell-check, and proof-read their own work, but it also gets sent to an actual proof-reader who will go over it with a fine-tooth comb. That just means that when things get to the point of being printed, they have typically been read over, and over again. This brings up another downfall of print, which is that once things go to print, that’s it. It’s permanent. Short of a correction or retraction statement in the next week, or month’s issue you are stuck. Those words have been spoken and are there to be viewed by anyone who can read with no going back. Now, with that being said that of course means that more thought goes into the printed word, simply because no one wants to print false information. For any writer, that is a big problem.
The next big thing to talk about with print is the fact that there is a limited page count, which means limited space to actually write. So, for example, when laying out a magazine for a future issue, editors will go over their ads for that month, and start to decide which articles they will be featuring, and how many pages will be allocated for each. This means that there is a finite amount of space. If you have an article that you really wanted to get into you have to really consider the page count before sitting down to write. I’ve written tons of articles for print over the years where I literally had to take chunks of copy straight out, as well as full interview questions and answers as well. On the other hand, this can be seen as a good thing as only the best of the best gets in. The editing process is much more specific, especially when it comes to photo selection. When there is only room for five photos in an article, you better believe the best five will be used. Another negative thing is that the information can be easily outdated by the time it goes to print, especially with magazines that are printed bi-monthly.
Magazines can also be a little on the expensive side, especially these days where there are fewer and fewer print ads funding the operation. That means that the actual newsstand cost has to go up to cover paper costs, staff, travel, and general expenses that go along with making a magazine come together. They also can be difficult to keep around, especially when you have a big collection. Another negative thing about print is the fact that they have a limited readership. They do say for every one person that reads a magazine five others will also read it but that is just a way for print to justify readership to potential advertisers. Sure, there are times when readers share their magazine with others, or times when a magazine sits on a desk in a waiting room and quite a few people will look through it but none of those numbers can actually be calculated. Beyond actual subscription sales, it’s all based on speculation. Bookstores are closing; magazine racks in stores are shrinking if their not being completely taken out. Ad sales are down, and shrinking on a regular basis. Contributor rates are down as well and magazines just aren’t paying what they used to if at all. It seems as though if you aren’t getting with the times and offering a solid online version and you don’t have a ton of online content coming out simultaneously with your print product, you are not going to survive.
It’s just a different time for print these days. I’m still all for print, and I will always be down for print, but it’s obvious that it’s much harder to maintain a successful print magazine in 2014. On the upside, only the strong survive and the magazines that are on the shelves now, are the ones that are most likely going to stay for the long haul.
Now let’s talk about online journalism and why it is the way it is, and why it is and has been such a threat to print. For one, it’s much more accessible. I think that might be the number one benefit compared to print. You can reach a worldwide audience, and get your words and photos read and viewed by anyone on the planet the with an Internet connection the very moment that you go live with it. That is pretty mind blowing if you really think about it. There is also unlimited room for copy. What does that mean? That means that you can say whatever it is that you want, and write as much as you want without having to sacrifice your point for the sake of space. You can also get way more in-depth with interviews because you have room for a seemingly unlimited amount of questions. Think about it this way…When it comes time to read an interview with your favorite rider, or someone that you really look up to, or that inspires you would you rather read an interview where they get asked ten questions, or one where they get asked twenty five questions? For me, there is nothing better than allowing the person that I’m interviewing to have an unlimited amount of space for their answers. It provides an entirely new platform in a way. People can truly voice their full opinion without having to worry about putting time into their answers and later finding out that an entire section of the interview that they put work into didn’t get used.
This brings us to the next obvious point, which is the fact that the online world provides us with a place for an unlimited number of photos. If you are interviewing someone online and showing a gallery of their work to go along with it, you don’t have to narrow it down to their top five photos, you can show a gallery of twenty, thirty, or more photos. Now, lets be real here. Not everyone is going to over-do it and just go post crazy, and put in every word and every photo but still, it’s an option and that is the point that I want to get across. Another amazing thing about the online world is that you can get your information through a variety of sources. Think about it compared to the BMX print world for an example. So, take the fact that as far as major magazines go you have Ride, Ride U.K., DIG, The Albion, Soul and any others that I might be forgetting. Now, compare that to the amount of websites out there that you can go to right this second for tons of BMX content on a daily basis. The amount of BMX-based websites outnumbers the print option ten fold.
On that note, let’s not forget the fact that not all of that online content is going to be good content. Anyone with an Internet connection can start a website and post other peoples work (We’re all familiar with popular BMX websites already doing that). So it’s proven that even though there are more options online compared to print, that doesn’t make them good options. You need to decide that for yourself though and after a while you will easily be able to recognize the good from the bad. This also begs the question about what is legit, and what’s not? Are facts fully researched the same way they would be if an article were going to print? That depends on the editor of that article I suppose. And it’s up to you to do some fact searching for yourself. Working online also means being able to provide interactive content that print just can’t do. For example, you can be reading an interview online that refers to a riders specific favorite video part, and then you can embed that very video part right there. Or you can link to a specific photo they mention, or anything for that matter. You can have interactive advertising in online versions of magazines where you click on an ad with a still photo and see a behind-the-scenes edit of how the rider shot that exact photo. The opportunities are endless really and that is one of the best things about online content.
Some negatives about online journalism include the fact that you need some source of power to read them whether it is a phone battery, a tablet battery, a laptop battery, or an electrical outlet for your actual computer tower. Another one is the fact that they are harder to transport than a magazine. Sure, a smart phone or tablet takes up less space than a magazine but you also have to be much more careful, and conscious of where that item is at all times. With a magazine, you can throw it into a bag and bring it with you anywhere and read it anytime, regardless of battery power. Hell, even in pure darkness you can still read a magazine with the flame of a candle. Try reading an online article with a dead laptop battery and tell me how that goes. We also don’t know exactly how “archival” online articles will be heading into the future. Sure, Google is a magical tool and serves as an amazing way to search out old articles but will you be able to look up one of your favorite online interviews that got posted a decade ago? Who knows if the original site it was posted on will be around and that alone leaves a lot to question as far as the validity of online journalism.
As I wrap this up, I continue to constantly struggle with the back-and-forth myself. Although I am a die-hard fan of print, I make most of my money from work that I have published online. Does that mean that I will turn my back on print completely? Hell no, I love print. But it does mean that I have been turning more towards working online and putting the same amount of effort into an online piece as I would for a print piece. At the end of the day, it feels great to hold a magazine in my hands, flip the pages and even go as far as smelling the paper and being taken back to my younger days where I would read every word cover to cover of every BMX magazine I could get my hands on. There is something to be said about the actual look and feel of print that can’t be duplicated by an electronic tablet but on the other hand, the fact that you can hold an entire libraries worth of books, magazines and articles in one hand is pretty incredible. As always, I feel the need to put a disclaimer on this type of opinion-based article to remind everyone that it is exactly that. Take is as you will, form your own opinion and leave any feedback and comments down below. I am interested in hearing what you guys have to say.
Well that does it for this week. One away from 100 and I couldn’t be more stoked to reach that landmark. On that note, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the one hundredth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.