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Aug 14

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

The Virtues of Print in a Web 2.0 World

Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make: Magazine did a brief interview with Publishing Executive Magazine, which included some great thoughts on how print publishers can harness the power of Web 2.0 while also playing to their own strengths.

INBOX: How can magazine publishers best capitalize on Web 2.0 for their own publications?
DOUGHERTY: One idea is to ask yourself the question: What does my audience know that I wish I knew, with “I” being either an editor or a publisher? Many people have characterized Web 2.0 as consisting of conversation in the forms of blogs and wikis that allow more people to participate. This could mean as much for a printed magazine as it does for a Web site. Ideas and stories may begin to flow from the audience, not just to the audience. You are expanding your sources at the same time you are deepening the relationship you have with your audience—again as individuals, not as an abstract demographic.

Dale is so right. Web 2.0 is actually a new way of doing something that is very close to the heart of publishing: finding, curating, and building upon the contributions of people who don't work for you but are pursuing their own passions. The secret of success in publishing is finding these people and pouring fuel on their fire. Web 2.0 isn't just technology; it's attitude. If you're a publisher who looks down on "user-generated content," you're probably also a follower, not a leader, since you'll never find the great new ideas that almost always emerge from the edge. (Moving from magazines to books, an area I know much better, just remember that JK Rowling didn't work for Scholastic! She started out just as much "user generated content" as any blog way out on the long tail.)

There's a lot that publishers can and should do with technology, because Web 2.0 is providing many new ways of finding new talent, bringing great material to the top of what used to be called "the slush pile", and then bringing it to market. But so much does begin just as Dale says, in deep engagement with your audience, which in almost every case is also the source of the content that you will feature.

Dale also has some great insights on the virtue of print in an increasingly online media world:

INBOX: What are publishers doing wrong when it comes to balancing print and Web initiatives?
DOUGHERTY: Even tech savvy people were getting wearied from the amount of technology that was available to them but which they could not really absorb. … I tend to think that the virtues of print are being ignored by print publishers. The new technology of the Web gets so much attention but we can do things in print that you just can’t do online—and one is hold a person’s attention for a longer period of time.

That’s a virtue. If a magazine is not going to be visually interesting and stimulating—which is to say as smart as it is beautiful to look at—why should readers care to buy this print product? If you’re going to pour lots of text in columns, you might as well put it online.

Of course, Dale likes to have his cake and eat it too, so even the visual richness of the print magazine is available in a digital edition (screencast below). But it's nothing like sitting down with that print copy -- which is why we sell more copies of each quarterly issue of Make: than we do of the biggest bestsellers in computer book publishing.

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Joel said:

Love it - Web 2.0 finally presents publishers with an opportunity to IMPROVE the content consumption experience online and build a direct relationship with their customers.

Hi Tim,
this article is one of the most interesting in the last few week (from my point of view, of course).
I have only note for you: not only "paper" can be read without electricity, a computer, etc., but also, paper has a higher resolution than screens: that's why your reading is clearer on paper than on screen.
In many cases, there's no need for a rewritable paper, so paper can really still have meaning in the third millennium.

The Eldorado for all forms of content is to strike a conversation with the consumer (i.e. reader in this case).

Small, niche, geographically limited print publications have felt this way for a long time. As a result, they have been participants in the communities that they exist in.

What the web in general, and web 2.0 in specific, does, is that it allows this conversation to exist in a geographically-agnostic context.

Lauren said:

This is all nice and so forth, and I've followed the ORA publishing conf last month, but how does all this relate or apply to fiction? Novels, short stories, and so on, how come we don't see all this techno-online-web2.0 innovation relating to publishing fiction? Isn't this a division of culture or something?

Tim O'Reilly said:

Lauren --

How do you know you don't? I'd suggest that graphic novels spanning print and online are one example.

And there's lots of purely online innovation in fiction. Consider fanfic.

And of course, there's all the promotional kinds of things that folks like Cory Doctorow are doing: free redistribution of his books, user-contributed audio readings, etc. etc.

Lauren said:


Thanks for the ideas.

I'm talking literature -- novels, short stories, great writing. 'Graphic novels' are not really novels, they're comic books with adult themes. Fanfic is usually scifi/fantasy genres. Cory Doctorow's book files are all non-free, not like some of the early Linux people who did 'copyleft' their books. The audio readings are cool.

But I'm wondering where the innovations are by companies, publishers, where all the *literature* is. 75 years ago, every smart American read THE SATURDAY EVENING POST which had several 10,000 word short stories in them. Today there is NO publication on the newsstand that would print that kind of stuff. I say who cares, we've got the web, but nothing on the web prints that kind of stuff either (oh plenty of amateur zines but no pro outlets that pay pro rates and get a lot of hits). Does this mean that literature is losing ground, or is incompatible with the web2.0 game plan?

My point is that if web2.0 is helping to 'free the constraints of paper' or whatever, you should have more text online, not less. My perspective again isn't computer manuals and all this tech stuff, but High Literature. Novels considered too big for the print publishers should be publishable on the web somehow, and be even more profitable than paper books. Is that even possible? Anyone interested in that sort of thing at all?


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