Brett Becker sticks up for print in his rejoinder to Gary Grant’s Tom-Tom of last month. Becker is a freelance writer and photographer who writes and shoots for Web and print titles. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in mass communication from the University of Central Florida.
In Defense of Print
In last month’s Tom-Tom, an amateur blogger, ostensibly emboldened by his own self-published Web site, disparaged print media. That’s certainly nothing new, and he is entitled to his opinion. In fact, we see similar beliefs expressed regularly in the Autowriters.com newsletter.
Before I touch on last month’s erroneously titled missive from http://www.thegarageblog.com/ proprietor Gary Grant, “Why Traditional Print Media Sucks,” allow me to defend print by examining what it does that other media cannot.
Foremost, print media actually can hold people’s attention for more than 500 words, and print is the best medium for making complex issues understandable. People will read features and other long-form journalism in a magazine or newspaper, but are less likely to click past the first page of Web site copy. What’s more, university research has shown fairly conclusively that retention is greater when subjects read a story on paper compared with a computer screen.
From other studies, we also can establish that what appears in a magazine has greater perceived value than the same user-posted message online. Commodity theory holds that people tend not to value what comes easily to them. The theory also stipulates we tend to value what we must work for, which is why a letter to the editor printed in, say, Road & Track has greater perceived value than a comment following a blog entry on GarageBlog.com. Why? Because editors are gate-keeping what gets into a magazine, your letter must be lucid to be printed. If it does get printed, it shows third-party acknowledgement of your position, which adds value to it.
Now, any nitwit with an Internet connection can have his comments seen instantly, regardless of whether they are worth reading—virtual graffiti at its finest.
Print media also require no electricity. Print is portable and can be read anywhere there is light. Download delays are nonexistent and logging off is as simple as closing the cover. Because paper isn’t fragile, you can toss a printed product into your briefcase without concern. Even a Web-savvy publisher such as Bonnier Corporation chief executive officer Terry Snow agrees that there is no better journalistic medium for showcasing fine, large-format photography than a glossy magazine.
In terms of advertising, industry studies have shown repeatedly that readers, in large measure, do not object to ads in magazines. In fact, they welcome them as part of the product, particularly in vertical markets. The same argument cannot be made for television, radio or Internet. And as Grant rightly points out, advertising is what makes the ball roll.
Yet, if the Internet is so omnipotent, why is it that so many Web sites offer contributors such dismal pay rates for content, if any compensation at all? For example, Internet Brands, a publicly traded company that owns more than 100 enthusiast sites, pays freelancers all of $10 for 400- to 600-word stories, and around $4 for 100- to 250-word briefs. That’s why you still find the best writing and photography in print titles—because they typically pay a decent rate.
With regard to last month’s Tom-Tom, Grant says that because one print journalist, in this case Sam Mitani with Road & Track magazine, admitted not wanting to meet with a reader who lived half a country away, traditional print media are falling apart. Through what could only be described as magical inductive reasoning, Grant says Mitani’s lack of interaction with that one reader demonstrates “why traditional print media sucks (sic)”—they do not—and why new media newcomers are “stealing the thunder away from many of the old boy’s (sic) club,”—they are not.
Grant goes on to say that an Internet site’s sense of community and its readers’ ability to respond to, interact and meet with staff are why they continue to “steal readers.” “Building a real-world community alongside the virtual one builds brand loyalty,” he claims. That’s an easy argument to make, but he never substantiates exactly how that occurs or provides any examples. So many blog responses and forum posts I’ve read are caustic and snide—due to the anonymity index of the Web—that Grant’s point about a sense of community is essentially meaningless.
However, the most galling aspect of Grant’s argument—aside from his claim that his site content is as polished as the copy in a newspaper or Road & Track—is that Mitani’s comments were taken out of context. If you read all of Mitani’s column, Grant’s argument is essentially moot. http://www.roadandtrack.com/article.asp?section_id=7&article_id=7930&print_page=y
In fairness, Grant might be able to cobble together a car review, maintain an amateur blog site and “steal” a few readers. But there is so much more to publishing than that. Is he creating any new readers? Is he adding anything of value? Is he doing anything a thousand other amateur bloggers are not? I doubt that as much as I doubt his baseless and irrelevant opinions on the future prospects of print media.