Print is Dead, Long Live Print!

David Carson,THE END OF PRINT, 1995,
Neville Brody is responsible for saying Carson’s work signaled
“the end of print” (Creative Review, may 1994)
Johannes Gutenberg and his masterpiece edition of the King James Bible,
made in 1455 C.E.
Gutenberg invented moveable type, thus ushering in the era of print as we know it.

This whole business about “The End Of Print” or “Print is Dead” has been going on now for over a decade.
For the most part it’s all a big philosophical conceit.
To be more accurate you could say: traditional media is being transformed. The future of books and newspapers and magazines is in electronic media. Print on paper will no long be at the forefront in the presentation and innovation of ideas. Print forms are now for collectors and appreciation.

Ideas are still ideas. Ideas keep coming.
In the past ideas were formally presented in print form for examination and contemplation. The electronic media transformation has simply freed us from that formality. I have no doubt books and print will still be used to formally present ideas, but now there are many other ways, and the forum of the internet allows many more voices.

Ideas and knowledge that were once buried in libraries and special collections can be revealed with a few keystrokes.
This is truly revolutionary. We should all be thankful.

When Brody said Carson’s work signaled the end of print in 1994, he was talking about the next development in the ongoing digital revolution of that time. I’m sure he foresaw the transformation to electronic media, but Carson’s work was more about breaking rules and experimenting with legibility and the expectation of linearity in print forms. Carson was the beginning of the end of that linearity that Brody spoke of.

But now, in 2008 we are really seeing that wave of transformation really taking shape. We are approaching the real turning point, one in which the shift (for most mainstream purposes) to electronic media for viewing content will be a permanent shift (as long as we still have electricity).

As a print designer, as an artist we can no longer afford to have a singular skill set. Interactive media is upon us. it is now expected, and quickly becoming the standard. To be competitive now a serious designer has to know Dreamweaver/CSS, Flash as well as InDesign and all the traditional design principles from Jan Tschichold as well as the deconstruction of those priciples by Brody, Carson and others. The new design paradigm is dynamic, chaotic, and interactive. It is not linear, but employs the best of those traditional principles.

I love books. I have nothing against electronic media, except a bit too slow to accept I need to learn all that additional software. For many purposes I think it is a welcome change. but, I wil always want my books. I have surrounded myself with them. I forgo just about everything else except food and music to keep building my library. A thorough Knowledge of the past is the best way to be prepared for the future.

We will continue to see print magazines, traditional books and newspapers. Slowly, though, we will see less and less traditional media and more electronic only media.

The real turning point will come when someone (Hello! Apple, are you listening!?) comes up with a device that truly emulates the experience of paper, is easily on the eyes, is portable, flexible, wireless, can hold vast amounts of digital data (and a lengthy charge) and is connected to the internet. Most importantly a device that feels like a book, but isn’t as delicate (or heavy) as a laptop, and captures the imagination of the public like the ipod did for music.
(Amazon’s kindle is not that device. While an important innovation it is the equivalent of the early 80s era Compaq computer.)

When said transformative device emerges, the print industry will shrink dramatically. It wil survive in a much smaller form. It will specialize and become more and more of a collectors market.

In a way this is fine as it makes books special again.

Looking back at Raygun, it’s important to note that it was a product of the digital revolution in design, and Carson with his extreme experiments had created a magazine that was literally illegible. For a commercial magazine, even a pop culture magazine, this was truly remarkable. And it captured the imaginations of a lot of young artists.

Contray to populate belief, evolution happens very quickly. In nature as in culture.
Raygun was pure evolution. The internet itself is the real evolution. Social networking sites, google YouTube and the blogosphere were merely the result of our culture adapting to it.
I remember back in 1993 when I first picked up Raygun. I literally trembled with excitement at that experiment, recognizing it as an enormous paradigm shift, and while some people mocked magazines like Raygun, I knew it was a glimpse of the future. So did a lot of others.

Since then the internet has been the vehicle that is reshaping of our culture.

Finally, the dialogue about “The End Of Print” has matured. Its moment is only now arriving. Almost every week brings the news of another newspaper folding or magazine abandoning it’s print version for a web only edition.

Gawker has an interesting ongoing thread called PRINT IS DEAD that explores tha
t debate.

Also, here is an interesting piece on Fast Company with Jeff Jarvis Former editor of Print Magazine.
a highlight:

“I’ve argued on my blog that in our post-scarcity world, distribution is not king and neither is content. Conversation is the kingdom, and trust is king. Perhaps your value is not just editors or articles but the community that gathers around them. I’d love to hear the wisdom of the crowd of New Yorker readers now that they, too, are writing.”

Ultimately this is a good thing for all of us. We are no longer limited by a lack of resources, we all can at relatively negligible cost by comparison get our ideas out there in a dynamic way….”

The great digital revolution is not without it’s pitfalls… such as weeding though all the fake stuff for facts and truth….
It also threatens to dilute journalism to petty commentary. Here’s a thread on that concern on gawker.

Fluxion magazine 1997-2008 (so far)

My little art and culture zine, Fluxion, was conceived as a print publication.
Realistically though, I have no resources to sustain a print magazine… perhaps a few copies via Print On Demand, but otherwise it just isn’t practical. I look longingly at art publications like SF Camerawork, Esopus, The Believer, and wish for my little publication to live alongside.

It is now possible to view the content of entire magazines online. (I am currently restructuring the issue archive to this new standard) I can distribute pdfs with paypal and even sell a limited collectors edition for those who want something physical. Trees are saved, there is less waste and the content is always available.

While I should be excited, I find myself very sad. I fear a whole generation of photographs, magazines, literature, and all the process that goes into it, all potentially lost. Lost because it no longer exists as a physical object. We now live by the tyranny of the delete key, or the failed hard drive, or electromagnetic disaster. Nothing is perfect.

Maybe I’ll feel different when that magic ePaper viewing device is born…..then again, maybe not.

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