Interview with Al Dean – Part 3

The DEVELOP3D team in London (Martyn Day, Greg Corke and Tony Baksh). Click image for larger view.

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Deelip: I know you believe that there is still a future in printed magazines. Otherwise you would not be running one. But you have a blog as well and recently took all your offline content online. How do you see things five years from now?

Al: I’m not a fan of trying to predict the future – things can turn on a penny (or dime). But I will say this. I don’t believe in magazines, in blogs or whatever per se. I believe in content. Good, solid content that engages with readers. Magazines are a delivery mechanism to enable that content to get out there. Just in the same way as blogs, web-site, mobile devices etc etc etc. What matters is creating the content and enabling people to get at it, to spread the word and create a community around it.

If you want to talk specifics, I don’t think print is going anywhere for a while. People still like it. Yes, information is available at your finger tips through a browser – but its a different type of content engagement on a laptop screen or a mobile device. It’s not geared up for lengthier reading.

There’s also a question of design – something I hope you realise, having read DEVELOP3D, we’re rabid about. You can do things with a magazine format that is very hard to do on a web-based context. You can give a story room to breath, to give it space. we’re talking to designers and engineers who are very visual people – why not give them something that looks nice. With print, you can do that extremely well. Yes, things like the iPhone and maybe the last great white hope of the publishing industry, the iPad, might change that but design is still a key thing.

The other thing is that people like magazines precisely because of their analog nature – I spend 16 hours a day looking at a display unit of some kind, a monitor, a laptop, a cellphone. If I want to switch off, I want the tactile feedback of a printed book or magazine. I think the vast majority of people are the same. Its a different delivery mechanism and its completely different type of engagement with the reader.

The other benefit is reach. Everyone obsesses over online communities, but print reaches more people and engages with more people if done correctly – and they find value in it – otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion now and I’d be talking about how “Print is Dead” and copy/pasting things into a Blogspot account. It’s about finding an audience, creating engaging content and delivering that content in diverse ways to enable its proliferation.

Deelip: What do you say to people who question the ability of a completely ad-supported publication to be objective?

Al: The short answer is somewhat unprintable and two words; the second one being “Off”. It’s bullshit, frankly. No-one is independent, we’ve all got bills to pay, we’ve all got mouths to feed and some, like us, have staff to support. Does that mean we’re not trying to do the best job we can, to provide people with interesting content, stuff that might actually help them get their job done more efficiently or with better results? No.

There’s an intriguing idea that if you sell advertising you suddenly become part of the machine, part of the ‘evil corporation’. That’s bullshit too. At present, our company has 10 employees and an army of freelancers to support to do what we do and what I think we excel at. Should I apologize for trying to make money to support that? No.

I’ll happily have this conversation anywhere, anytime. We’ve never pulled our punches. Ever. We’ve all been threatened with court over things we’ve written over the years. I’ve personally been physically threatened at a trade show and Martyn’s had the same. Does that sounds like we’ve sold our souls to the devil?

You tell me.

Deelip: The CAD vendors wine, dine and fly the CAD press around the world for events? Is that a right, a duty or a privilege?

Al: This is a joke right? Its none of the above. It’s how its done. I do, our team does it, you do it too. We spend the vast majority of our time sat on a train or in a car, heading into a conference room for two day demo sessions, with a crappy sandwich and lukewarm tea – or sat in front of a mac bashing out words like rabid monkeys. It’s not all rock and roll mate.

But I love it, the whole thing. Nothing better than getting an email from a reader that’s got a problem and helping them to solve it, find them a real solution to a problem. Similarly I love digging into the technology, particularly new technology, often helping the developer craft both the technology into a product and getting some traction – and the fact that people like what we do makes it worthwhile.

See you in Portland mate. Should be fun.