Are Printed Publications Relevant in an Online World?

The other day the first anniversary issue of DEVELOP3D landed in my office. As a rule they usually do not ship to India, but I guess there are few exceptions to that rule. I took the magazine home to read and as I did I started asking myself whether printed publications actually have a place in a world that increasingly getting online. In recent times we have seen more and more print publications winding up or going online, and not always out of choice.
This is the way I look at it. In my view, printed publications, such as magazines, have little value when it comes to news. For example, DEVELOP3D’s first item in the news section read “PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 5.0 to deliver real time model regeneration“. I didn’t read a word of it. Why? Because that news is a month old. Ironically, one of the first places I read about it was at DEVELOP3D’s own blog. The situation with the other news items in the magazine was no different. I get the daily news delivered straight to my inbox by the the Tenlinks Daily email newsletter. For breaking news I have bloggers reporting from live events which gets picked up by my feed reader instantly. And of course there is Twitter. What’s more, I don’t even need the press to interpret what a company said in a press release. I simply add the company’s press release RSS feed to my feed reader and I get to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, and that too instantly.
Having said all of the above, I feel that printed magazines have something that the online world has been trying to get for many years now – the complete and undivided attention of the reader. And that is precisely what gives them an edge over online publications. I need to explain this a little. For that I need to take you to my world.
From the moment I enter office, all that my brain can think of doing is getting my body to work – in my case, write C++ code. In fact, my brain is already organizing my day while I am still in the car. So as soon as I sit at my desk, I start Outlook and reply to my emails as fast as I can. The emails that need time to reply are saved as drafts to be attented to later in the day. I then quickly scan what my feed reader has accumulated for me. This is the time when one half of my brain is fighting with the other over whether I should spend my time reading something or not. If the headline or the first few words do not interest me in a big way, I find my finger click the mouse on the next item in the list. If I have not spent a significant amount of time in my feed reader, my brain may allow me the time to check on what the people I follow on Twitter are saying. After this last excercise my brain heaves a sigh of relief and wastes no time in putting itself in programming mode. While I am programming, the infighting in my brain stops completely and both halves think about nothing else but C++.
Now compare this to how I read the issue of DEVELOP3D. I read the cover story on Marin Bikes after dinner while relaxing on my couch after my boys were tucked away in bed. I read the Autodesk Inventor 2010 review the next morning sitting on my easy chair, on the front porch of my house, with a cup of tea at my side, while birds chirped above me. The only thing disturbing me was my dog licking my toes. I read the Solid Edge ST2 review that evening, again on the front porch. This time my dog figured that playing fetch with my five year old son in the garden was more interesting than licking his master’s toes. And to top it all, I read the uPrint 3D printer review while crapping. My point is that for every word that I read and every image I saw, both halves of my brain were in total harmony and I ended up giving total and undivided attention to the author or advertiser. To be brutally frank, if the cover story on Marin Bikes had appeared on the DEVELOP3D blog, I would never have read it. But I read each and every word of it on the DEVELOP3D printed magazine.
And this brings me to another equally important point, that of advertising. Advertising is the thing that makes a publication possible, whether it is printed or online. Thanks to all these years of looking into a web browser, my brain (both halves) has mastered the art of blocking out everything except the thing that I want to read. I can look at a web page with a million ads, brightly colored, animated or whatever, but my brain will only show me the words that I have come to read. I have almost never clicked on a Google ad, mainly because my brain filters it out for me, even though Google ads look quite similar to the text that I am reading. My brain treats a web ad as part of a universe that does not interest me. My brain takes the entire HTML content of a web page, isolates the portions that interest me and strips out the remaining. Ironically, this is exactly what my feed reader does. It shows me only the text and images that are referenced by the text. Everything else is gone.
I guess I am not the only one whose brain has evolved in such a way. I say this because there are online publications that inject ads right in the middle of the text that a reader has come to read. I think this is a desperate attempt to get the attention of the reader. I also believe that this is the most stupid way of doing it. Come one, do they actually think that the reader will stop reading the article, completely derail his line of thought, read the ad, understand and appreciate its content and then get back to reading the article. I definately would not. And I definitely do not. Such ads can only add up to nuisance value, nothing else.
On the other hand, I actually took the time out to look at every advertisement that appeared in the DEVELOP3D printed magazine. Page 6 contained a full page ad of SolidSolutions, a SolidWorks reseller, showing an ice carving of a motor cycle. I remember looking at every detail of the carving and then reading each and every word that followed it. I did that because my brain was at ease and did not have something hastenning it to get on with the next thing. I don’t believe I have seen a printed magazine that injects advertisements in the middle of an article. They don’t need to. The ads are either full page ads or are neatly tucked away in a corner of side of a page. They know that even though the reader is in the middle of reading an article, eventually the ad will come to his attention, quite simply because he has all the time in the world to look at it.
As an advertiser, if I want to advertise my brand or product, I would prefer putting in a place and time when my target audience is in the best position and state of mind to read and understand my message. Shoving something in front of a reader’s eyes when he is reading something that interests him is like a nagging wife constantly interupting you when you are watching your favorite sport on TV.
I have never picked up a magazine to read it in a hurry. The very act of picking up a magazine indicates that my mind is at ease. Neither have I picked up ten magazines and rifled though the pages to read only the articles. Yet, this is exactly what I do with online publications every day.
There is something else that I don’t understand about online publications. Some have now started to offer RSS feeds for their content. That is plain and simple crazy. Its like taking a printed magazine, tearing out all the pages that contain ads and then sending it to readers. Why the bloody hell would a company want to advertise on an online publication that offers RSS feeds? This is like the filtering that my brain does when it see ads on a web page, just that my brain does not need to take the trouble any more. The content is already filtered by the RSS feed. Somebody please explain this to me.
So to answer the question “Are printed publications relevant in an online world?”, I would say that they most definitely are. In fact, I would go further and say that their relevance increases in a world that getting more and more online. Its sad to see that an increasing number of them are closing down or taking the online route.
Maybe after they grow up my kids will read the local newspaper in their web browser. But I will always read it on my front porch with my dog licking my toes. I just cannot bring myself to read it any other way.
  • soliddna

    Hi DeelipDo not underestimate the feeling of holding the object in your hands. This is something the online documentation can't reproduce. Reading in the comfort of your favorite chair is priceless. Like your newspaper :-)For that reason I bought a tablet PC with touch capabilities. I can access all my articles from anywhere and have a near paper experience when reading.Electronic paper might help resolve more issues.The Holy Grail will be reach when electronic paper will have the feel and touch (texture) of the real object.We are in a transition and probably kids ( those around 5 years old) will be the pivot generation toward electronic informations.

  • soliddna

    Hi Deelip

    Do not underestimate the feeling of holding the object in your hands. This is something the online documentation can't reproduce. Reading in the comfort of your favorite chair is priceless. Like your newspaper 🙂

    For that reason I bought a tablet PC with touch capabilities. I can access all my articles from anywhere and have a near paper experience when reading.

    Electronic paper might help resolve more issues.

    The Holy Grail will be reach when electronic paper will have the feel and touch (texture) of the real object.

    We are in a transition and probably kids ( those around 5 years old) will be the pivot generation toward electronic informations.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Solid DNA,Yeah, sometimes I feel that we will all be too old when the good stuff comes around 😉

  • Deelip Menezes

    Solid DNA,

    Yeah, sometimes I feel that we will all be too old when the good stuff comes around 😉

  • Anonymous

    A couple comments:Yeah, tablet PC's are nice — I just bought a gorgeous Thinkpad X61T. But they're still not an ideal eBook format — they're too heavy and the battery life is too short.But I do think a very slim, long battery life smartbook/netbook could somewhat replace paper.When it comes to magazines, content is king. I typically go through a trade magazine in <15 minutes, because there's not much good content. I skim the ads, looking quickly for anything that I haven't seen before and looks interesting.If I pay for a magazine, it has to have good content. Even a free magazine has to have at least some interesting and relevant content.BTW, you can insert ads in RSS streams. But it's no surprise that search related ads (Google adwords) are the most profitable.

  • Anonymous

    A couple comments:
    Yeah, tablet PC's are nice — I just bought a gorgeous Thinkpad X61T. But they're still not an ideal eBook format — they're too heavy and the battery life is too short.

    But I do think a very slim, long battery life smartbook/netbook could somewhat replace paper.

    When it comes to magazines, content is king. I typically go through a trade magazine in <15 minutes, because there's not much good content. I skim the ads, looking quickly for anything that I haven't seen before and looks interesting.

    If I pay for a magazine, it has to have good content. Even a free magazine has to have at least some interesting and relevant content.

    BTW, you can insert ads in RSS streams. But it's no surprise that search related ads (Google adwords) are the most profitable.

  • ralphg

    My lightwieght Asus 701 netbook acts like an Internet-based magazine. With its fast boot speed (thank you Linux), long life (thank you 9-cell battery from eBay), light weight (thank you small size) and wireless, I sit in the evenings reading articles on it as if it were a magazine.

  • ralphg

    My lightwieght Asus 701 netbook acts like an Internet-based magazine. With its fast boot speed (thank you Linux), long life (thank you 9-cell battery from eBay), light weight (thank you small size) and wireless, I sit in the evenings reading articles on it as if it were a magazine.

  • Burhop
  • Burhop
  • al dean

    DeelipWow – thanks. It might sound strange in this day and age of information available literally at your fingertips, that print is still incredibly viral. When we launched DEVELOP3D, we did a year's worth of research.Research into what readers (and by that I meant users, designers, engineers and manufacturers) wanted and didn't want. We collected lists of potential readers from all manner of sources, friends and the like. Then we got the magazine into shape, invested a great deal in the look and feel of the magazine. After all, we're addressing design-lead individuals. What people want is snappy news, in-depth features and stories about how people are using the technology we cover, how its assisting their processes and tasks.One thing we know that people actively react against is too much vendor waffle. Very few of the stories we run are provided by vendors – why? because they simply do not cut the mustard. Yes, we are a commercial organization and the magazine is supported and only possible through advertising – that doesn't mean that standards can be dropped. That's the easy way out. That's why you'll find interesting stories from the last year that simply wouldn't appear in other magazines. We commission them with professional writers with a passion for the subject matter – rather than relying on lazy copy.But more than this, paper print works because of exactly the thing you describe – sitting on the porch and reading it. You can stuff it into a bag, it doesn't run out of battery half way through a flight and you can pass it around. It has much more longevity than almost any other medium for information dissemination. Blog posts come and go – magazines, if well executed, remain constant, get passed around and have a longer life.Your point about the PTC news story – I'm glad you read about it on the web-site first. But if we compare the exposure of that story, we're talking about a couple of thousand hits at the most. The print magazine, even with its restricted print publication (which alone goes out to around 15,000 people in the UK and yes a few overseas to good people), then as PDF (across the globe), reaches many more than that.It reaches people that don't actively look at the many blogs and web-sites to get their news, preferring to take their time and read things in comfort – even if that does mean having the dog licking their feet. What surprises me is how global that community of readers actually is. I'm always greatly amused by the fact that there are four people in Lima in Peru that download the PDF of the magazine, every month, without fail and sit there, in the South American sunshine.Until electronic devices give you the presentation quality and the ability to take advantage of good quality graphic design (something we believe is absolutely paramount) to present the information in a compelling manner, then print will be around for sometime.The interesting thing for me is how online and print content can interact. We can run a story online, gather information, research and refine that content before we commit to firing up those very costly printing presses – the result is web-based content that's fast and loose – but also a nicely presented magazine for those that don't have the time to spend portions of their day reading stuff on the web. The two have and need to work in concert and if done correctly and properly, can truly achieve a synergy that brings the best of both worlds.There are a lot of crap magazines out there, running derivate and uninformed content (and yes, the same can be said of many blogs). But there are good solid magazines out there still. I like to think DEVELOP3D is one of them. But we're not content to sit still and we'll be launching new things over the course of this year. Can't sit still mate. There's too much going on. And yes, we'll be launching an overseas subscription service sometime later this summer.Al, Editor, DEVELOP3D.PS: Look out for the next issue – the cover alone will take your eyeballs out. And that's a good thing 😉

  • al dean

    Deelip
    Wow – thanks. It might sound strange in this day and age of information available literally at your fingertips, that print is still incredibly viral. When we launched DEVELOP3D, we did a year's worth of research.
    Research into what readers (and by that I meant users, designers, engineers and manufacturers) wanted and didn't want. We collected lists of potential readers from all manner of sources, friends and the like. Then we got the magazine into shape, invested a great deal in the look and feel of the magazine. After all, we're addressing design-lead individuals. What people want is snappy news, in-depth features and stories about how people are using the technology we cover, how its assisting their processes and tasks.
    One thing we know that people actively react against is too much vendor waffle. Very few of the stories we run are provided by vendors – why? because they simply do not cut the mustard. Yes, we are a commercial organization and the magazine is supported and only possible through advertising – that doesn't mean that standards can be dropped. That's the easy way out. That's why you'll find interesting stories from the last year that simply wouldn't appear in other magazines. We commission them with professional writers with a passion for the subject matter – rather than relying on lazy copy.
    But more than this, paper print works because of exactly the thing you describe – sitting on the porch and reading it. You can stuff it into a bag, it doesn't run out of battery half way through a flight and you can pass it around. It has much more longevity than almost any other medium for information dissemination. Blog posts come and go – magazines, if well executed, remain constant, get passed around and have a longer life.
    Your point about the PTC news story – I'm glad you read about it on the web-site first. But if we compare the exposure of that story, we're talking about a couple of thousand hits at the most. The print magazine, even with its restricted print publication (which alone goes out to around 15,000 people in the UK and yes a few overseas to good people), then as PDF (across the globe), reaches many more than that.
    It reaches people that don't actively look at the many blogs and web-sites to get their news, preferring to take their time and read things in comfort – even if that does mean having the dog licking their feet. What surprises me is how global that community of readers actually is. I'm always greatly amused by the fact that there are four people in Lima in Peru that download the PDF of the magazine, every month, without fail and sit there, in the South American sunshine.
    Until electronic devices give you the presentation quality and the ability to take advantage of good quality graphic design (something we believe is absolutely paramount) to present the information in a compelling manner, then print will be around for sometime.
    The interesting thing for me is how online and print content can interact. We can run a story online, gather information, research and refine that content before we commit to firing up those very costly printing presses – the result is web-based content that's fast and loose – but also a nicely presented magazine for those that don't have the time to spend portions of their day reading stuff on the web. The two have and need to work in concert and if done correctly and properly, can truly achieve a synergy that brings the best of both worlds.

    There are a lot of crap magazines out there, running derivate and uninformed content (and yes, the same can be said of many blogs). But there are good solid magazines out there still. I like to think DEVELOP3D is one of them. But we're not content to sit still and we'll be launching new things over the course of this year. Can't sit still mate. There's too much going on. And yes, we'll be launching an overseas subscription service sometime later this summer.

    Al, Editor, DEVELOP3D.

    PS: Look out for the next issue – the cover alone will take your eyeballs out. And that's a good thing 😉

  • Burhop

    I'm a technology guy so I'll be very happy to drop the printed magazine as soon as some device gives me the same resolution (how does my 100dpi screen compare to your mag?) usability in all situations (sunlight or by the pool) and flexibility (leave it in your hot car, forget it on the plane). Al, I think the hard print is safe for a while.

  • Burhop

    I'm a technology guy so I'll be very happy to drop the printed magazine as soon as some device gives me the same resolution (how does my 100dpi screen compare to your mag?) usability in all situations (sunlight or by the pool) and flexibility (leave it in your hot car, forget it on the plane).

    Al, I think the hard print is safe for a while.

  • Debankan Chattopadhyay

    Excellent insights Deelip, especially when it comes to relevance of news on printed media. In this age of "breaking news" and "remember-you-saw-it-here-first", print media does appear a slacker. Having said that, most of the comments you have received so far focus on resolution, weight of laptops, netbooks, Kindle etc. which in my mind are all secondary. Even if you have the lightest of devices with highest of resolutions, just the fact that so much info is available adds to the 'distraction' factor. IMO, the important thing that you highlghted was "brainshare" and how printed media grabs all of it. I couldn't agree more.

  • Debankan Chattopadhyay

    Excellent insights Deelip, especially when it comes to relevance of news on printed media. In this age of "breaking news" and "remember-you-saw-it-here-first", print media does appear a slacker.

    Having said that, most of the comments you have received so far focus on resolution, weight of laptops, netbooks, Kindle etc. which in my mind are all secondary. Even if you have the lightest of devices with highest of resolutions, just the fact that so much info is available adds to the 'distraction' factor. IMO, the important thing that you highlghted was "brainshare" and how printed media grabs all of it. I couldn't agree more.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Debankan,

    I totally agree. If, or rather when, we get electronic paper that we can fold and roll, it will also come with the same mess that we now see in a web browser. The problem is not the medium, rather its the content and the way it is put across to the reader. The limitations in the way you can put information together on a printed publications actually serves as its greatest advantage over online media. There is just too much distraction in online media and the brain automatically shuts all of it off without us even knowing it.

  • BennyShaviv

    Deelip, What can I say – I am a fan of both meat and fish. and I like both online and printed medias. Each has its purpose. I have a ton of books at home, I read magazines on airplanes, and online media is handy when I am in front of the screen in any case. I dont think that the combination of print & screen will ever be replaced. Neither will win – they are both good and they complement each other. but then again, maybe I'm just a nerdy bookworm eh.. screenworm 🙂

  • BennyShaviv

    Deelip,

    What can I say – I am a fan of both meat and fish. and I like both online and printed medias. Each has its purpose. I have a ton of books at home, I read magazines on airplanes, and online media is handy when I am in front of the screen in any case.

    I dont think that the combination of print & screen will ever be replaced. Neither will win – they are both good and they complement each other.

    but then again, maybe I'm just a nerdy bookworm eh.. screenworm 🙂

  • Deelip Menezes

    Debankan,

    I totally agree. If, or rather when, we get electronic paper that we can fold and roll, it will also come with the same mess that we now see in a web browser. The problem is not the medium, rather its the content and the way it is put across to the reader. The limitations in the way you can put information together on a printed publications actually serves as its greatest advantage over online media. There is just too much distraction in online media and the brain automatically shuts all of it off without us even knowing it.