He Not Busy Being Born is Busy Dying - Part 1
(This part one in my two part series on the future of printed media, content consumption and how technologies must constantly reinvent themselves if they fear death. Part two will be posted tomorrow.)
In 1995, David Carson famously declared that we have reached ‘the end of print’ with the release of his book of the same title. This seemed to suggest that printed design was dead and the field had moved to motion, interactive, and multi-media productions. Of course fifteen years later, print is still hanging around. Carson’s book has sold over 200,000 copies, has become the best selling graphic design book of all time and I believe is somewhere in it’s ninth printing. Ironic, isn’t it?
However, now in 2010, we may be closer than ever to the print’s demise. Just last month, Amazon announced that for the first time, sales of it’s Kindle books surpassed hardcover sales. And with the rise of the iPad (and eventually other tablet devices, I’d imagine) the way we consume media–specifically the written word–is going digital. Newspapers and magazines are slowing printing in favor of digital components, whether that be iPad apps, websites or some other electronic medium.
The internet has made media consumption easier than ever and portable devices like iPads, Kindles, and Nooks make it more fun. From newspapers to magazines to books to blog posts, we are now have a constant flood of content at our fingertips ready to be devoured. It’s now just as easy to read a book on a Kindle or iPad as it is to read a real book (you know, the ones with paper and ink). And after spending the money on the device of your choice, you’ll be spending less on your content.
And perhaps that is why traditional publishing models are struggling. When reading on the web, we are only concerned with content, not a product but when buying a book, magazine, or newspaper, we feel we are getting our money’s worth. We get to hold something tangible in our hands. We can turn it over and look at it from different angles. It’s easier to pay for something when we feel like some care was put into it—when there is some humanity in it.
When I was a freshman in college, I had a short stint working part-time at a local design firm that focused largely on printed material—banners, posters, large-scale signage, and small pamphlets, brochures and booklets. I remember having a conversation with the designer about the differences between designing for print and web. He told me he had a short job designing on-air graphics for a local news show and he struggled with how ephemeral his designs seemed, only being flashed on a screen for sometimes just a few seconds. It felt so fleeting, he told me. He never felt that with print. To him, it felt like once it was printed, it was something lasting and at least semi-permanent.
And in many ways, that’s still how designing for the web is. Most designs and a lot of our online content is short-lived. Disposable, if you will. Maybe that’s why we struggle with paying for content online. Maybe we have a hard time paying for something we will simply get rid of when we finish reading it.
Content creators are realizing that though they can’t get consumers to spend as much for digital content, they can also spend less by bypassing traditional distribution methods such as printing costs, shipping, etc.
This is hard for a designer. Where do we fit into what appears to be the new model for media distribution and consumption? Has economic issues welcomed the end of a medium that served us well for centuries? Are we stuck designing disposable content? Is all design ephemeral and fleeting now?
Bob Dylan famously said “He not busy being born is busy dying.” If a medium is not constantly being reinvented, re-imagined, reborn, new technologies will take it’s place leading to it’s death.
Print isn’t dead yet. In fact, I think this signals a new birth for print, giving it a new place in the new models for distribution and consumption.