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What I Learned This Week: Print Is Dead! Long Live Print!

This week I made the decision to cancel my subscription to the 14 magazines I read regularly. So what did I learn this week other that I saved a bunch of money on magazines and made a few bucks on a Beatles book? I learned that print isn't dead in all cases. It's just being redirected...or redefined.

This is the story of 14 magazines and two books.

And the death of the print medium.

And the resurrection of the print medium.

Epic story, it seems!

Let's begin it with me. I am a voracious reader. Spend a disproportionate amount of my free time buried in books and magazines. Yet this week I made the decision to cancel my subscription to the 14 magazines I read regularly, namely:

  • Time
  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek
  • Maclean's
  • Wired
  • Fast Company
  • Fortune
  • Entertainment Weekly
  • Conde Nast Traveler
  • Canadian Business
  • The New Yorker
  • Inc.
  • Vanity Fair
  • Esquire
  • Consumer Reports

No longer will these publications be sent to my home (and given Canada Post's newly-announced draconian measure, my timing seems to be very right)...but that doesn't mean I will stop reading them.

Instead, they will be sent to my iPad and iPhone as part of a $14.99 monthly subscription to NextIssue, an all-you-can-eat pure digital play described as "the Netflix of magazines." I chose to replace what I read, but I could've chosen 100 more if I really wanted to.

Now I don't want to sound like a shill for the service, nor do I want to sound the death knell for the magazine industry, but it appears this is the logical next step to save it.

Sure, each of the magazines I had subscribed to (each one way more expensive than my new $14.99 aggregate, I may add) came with the perfunctory "digital version," but who needed the concrete print edition folded in the mailbox when its zeroes-and-ones version actually arrived days earlier?

As I type these words, directly to the right of my computer screen are two piles of magazines, each about a foot-and-a-half high. Despite my ravenous appetite for consuming them, they accumulate. Even if I eventually do get around to all of them, they are ultimately tossed into the recycling. What a waste of time, paper, money and energy.

Granted, I will miss the satisfying "rip" of an article I tear out to save, and the fact that I can roll a magazine up to swat a fly, but other than that, there is really no logical reason to prolong their paper presence for much longer.

Better still, as magazines adapt to the digital space and further integrate motion, movies and other media (forward-thinking Wired, for example, is WAY better digitally than it is print), they will become more exciting and a better product, period.

So is the magazine industry dead? No, it's simply moving on to a new location.

Now for books. Despite the fact that I compose this piece flanked by shelves of volumes in my home office/library, just about every "book" I buy these days is downloaded as well.

I put the word "book" in quotations for a reason. Unlike the migration of magazines, I feel that the book business has split in two, and in the process, is redefining what a book is.

On one hand, like magazines, books have met the digital disintermediator. Why waste natural resources for a simple tactile thrill? Novels, non-fiction, scholastic texts, self-help all work just as well, or even better, on a digital platform.

But that doesn't mean printed books are dead. They're just morphing into entities that CAN'T be replicated digitally.

Cases in point are two volumes I bought one year apart from each other. One is "S," the brilliant recent collaboration of TV/film producer J.J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst; the other, "Places I Remember," the boxed Beatles photography collection by Henry Grossman.

The former is ingenious. It's a story played out within the pages of a faux library book, a 1949 novel by the mysterious "V.M. Straka." In it, two characters communicate through notes scribbled in the book's margins as well as through newspaper clippings, postcards, maps and other ephemera they stick within the book's pages. With "S," Abrams and Dorst have created a brand new medium -- a performance in print! -- and take us on a journey that traditional books would be hard-pressed to match. I can't think of a better $25 (discounted!) I ever spent on a reading experience.

The latter volume is a massive boxed missive that was released last year. Grossman was one of the Fab Four's favorite photogs, and had almost unlimited access to the band between 1964 and 1968. Over 1,000 of his rare, never-before-seen images of that era were elegantly packaged by Curvebender Publishing, a company that sells ultra-high-end, limited edition volumes exclusively from its website.

Long story short, "Places I Remember" is more a conversation piece and collector's item than mere book, and one year after I laid out a whopping $800 for the signed version (the entire edition sold out), it is now selling for upwards of $5,000 on eBay.

Curvebender is not alone in this game. Genesis Publications of England do something similar. Chronicle Books assemble "Illustrated Lives" of icons, filled with memorabilia replicas, while just about anything Taschen does is memorable.

Then there are "books" like Chris Ware's "Building Stories," a hard to describe boxed collection of hardcovers, paperbacks, pamphlets, comics, maps and other printed material that combine to form a most puzzling and innovative graphic novel, one that blows the traditional book biz paradigm to smithereens. Guess you just have to be there.

And that's just the point. Let's call it "Event Publishing," where the "event" isn't the macro-hype when some famous author releases a new book, but the micro experience when one takes home one of these newfangled literary works and gets to play with it.

So what did I learn this week other that I saved a bunch of money on magazines and made a few bucks on a Beatles book?

I learned that print isn't dead.

It's just being redirected...or redefined.

P.S. Isn't it somewhat ironic reading about this here?

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