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Serial, GIFs, Warby Parker, and the New Case for Print

January 7, 2015

Dog Ear Consultants

OK, so the last time we met, we told you that if you weren’t online, you were missing the party. And we stand by that.

But.

There’s an interesting case for print that we’ve been seeing lately (online, naturally) that suggests magazines will be saved by their non-digital nature. Let’s build that argument.

But before we get to print’s comeback, it’s important to remember the natural progression and time it takes for media forms to find their post–”digital revolution” niche. Take podcasts: This American Life offshoot Serial has become so universally popular that it has spawned the kind of show recap market usually reserved for the primetime heavies like Lost and The Walking Dead. There’s even a Serial review podcast.

All this for a podcast? A form that lost so much of its sheen that the New York Times cleaned out their network three years ago? But Serial isn’t an outlier. A record 39 million people listened to podcasts in September according to Edison Research (via nymag). And as this Fast Company article notes, three new public broadcasting podcast networks have launched in the past year. (The Fast Company and NY Mag pieces offer a bunch of explanations for the podcast’s second coming: Smartphones are becoming ever more ubiquitous. Cars are increasingly connected. Publishers are figuring out how to monetize them. And podcasts are just better now.)

GIFs rose from a much deeper pile of ashes. Previously an embarrassing icon of an early web where dancing babies (and Jesus) were accepted accessories, they’ve become an increasingly useful video dissemination and short-term celebrity–making tool.

But print’s second act is more surprising than either of these. Consider how many web-first publications—Politico, CNET, Huffington Post, Pitchfork—are now venturing into print. And this return to the physical is not just a media phenomenon. Countless e-commerce properties have made the move to physical locations in recent years. Online eyewear seller Warby Parker is making big retail moves. Amazon, the granddaddy of the form, just opened a pop-up spot in NYC. Even Etsy has gone brick-and-mortar.

Why? In both cases, the answer is simple: Because there is a market for it.

As part of his “case for analog,” NewCity editor and co-publisher Brian Hieggelke makes the point that print vs. digital is not a zero sum game.

I imagine a future where print and digital continue to exist in parallel lives, where many of us consume media in both realms. Where the media brand rather than the media product becomes the central concern of visionary leaders. Where the best of print recognizes that its survival depends on an innate sense for the character of print, the print experience.

The irony of this argument, of course, is that it contends that the print magazine will be saved because it offers an alternative to digital media—the very thing that everyone thought would destroy it.

Happy Wednesday.

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