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The Future of Reading: Printed Media (part 2)

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At the end of December we started a conversation about the future of reading. Yes, reading is going digital, “most def”: on Christmas day Amazon for the first time sold more e-books than printed ones. With abundance of e-readers as Kindle, Sony Reader, hardly awaited iTablet and other exciting new reading devices, many of them presented at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas, the future of reading is definitely changing.

But what’s in it for printed media?

While I am a big technology fan, when reading, I still love to hold the magazine or book in my hands, flip through it, touch the paper, see the brightness of colors, smell the fresh print, admire the cover…

_Superyacht, L.E. book by Swedish designer Henrik Persson of Become.

Umair Haque in his Harvard Business Review ideacast “Can Good Journalism also be Profitable?” talks about the future of journalism and what it would need to be (remain) profitable (again). He talks about “turning soda into wine”, thus giving journalism (back) a substance and credibility which will make it stand out of other written word / information found on-line. Some of the things Umair mentions are that 1) publishers should focus on people, not product (media). They’ve changed formats, sizes, design, prices, … What they should try is focus on people, find ways to connect journalists and readers, so they could connect, communicate and see what really matters. Social media here helps a lot (check out how Nicholas D. Kristof of NYTimes is doing it).

The second thing Umair states as a means to reach the goal, is for media to focus on outcomes, not incomes (although 20th century might have had it the other way around) . This (to me) seems logical, although many media publishers don’t seem to get it: if I as a reader feel I am better informed, educated, more engaged in the content, if I get better info from the newspaper or a magazine, I will buy another issue, have confidence in what they ‘preach’, trust their advertisers more,… which at the end means income…

_Packaging for book New York by Henrik Persson of Become. “The book weighs 16 kgs (half meter high when standing on floor) and comes in a vertical standing packaging/display stand made in perspex that literally looks like a building/skyscraper.”

Content is important. But, design matters as well.

Innovative approaches to it, collectibles, limited editions, subtle design details, thoughtful and engaging process of wrapping the content into an outlet a reader would pick up and hopefully even save and behold as a precious book.

The other day I got to know a story behind McSweeney’s, got excited about what they do and how they do it, and wanted to share it with you. “At McSweeney’s – where writers design books, construction workers edit them, and people seemingly pursue projects willy-nilly – the way a reader experiences a book on the outside is taken as seriously as the way they experience it on the inside. 


Staff and collaborators dream up elaborate and whimsical packaging approaches that seduce before you even crack the cover. Issue 17 of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern looked like a pile of mail,  Issue 23 boasted an elegant “Z binding” that opened from both sides, and Issue 28 saw eight mini-books (containing one fable apiece) banded together with interlocking cover illustrations. Supported by McSweeney’s unique creative process, in which the same set of people typically see a book through from editing to design to publishing, the physical look of the books is always deeply connected to the text inside. And yet, the people responsible for them are “not really designers.” So what gives?

According to Horowitz, who has done time in nearly every position within the company, what is seen on the shiny surface of things like McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern is largely a result of dreaming up things they’re not qualified to do,  and don’t have the manpower for. What’s more, this no-holds-barred mentality, driven by a bootstrappy enthusiasm and bountiful, if not officially trained, creative talent, has earned them recognition by the National Book Critics Circle Awards, as well as design awards including the AIGA 50 Books Award, AIGA 365 Illustration Award, and the Print Design Regional Award.

While traditional publishers have more resources, McSweeney’s small size – just 10 full-time employees – and perpetual willingness to take risk, allows them to be more nimble and infinitely more innovative. Take, for instance, the latest issue of the Quarterly Concern, the San Francisco Panorama, which brazenly took the form of a Sunday paper. Conceived as a form of rebellion against the news industry’s rumored demise, the gorgeous, 320-page issue sold out in moments, and garnered press coverage all the way from the Bay to the New York Times.” One of McSweeney’s mantras is: Never having done something before is a bad reason not to do it.

And what matters to you? Content, design, both? Why? How do you read? Would love to hear your opinion!


One Comment

  1. joan smith

    Thanks for making such a valuable blog, sincerely Kobos Mathers.

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