Or Why I’m Re-Launching a Paper Magazine When Everyone’s Crying that Print is Dead
I like the internet as much as the next blogger. I don’t think online media is making us any dumber than we already are. But the internet will never replace print media for me. I love the look of print. I love the feel of print. I love the smell of print. And I’m irritated by exaggerated reports about the death of print.
Brainless print publications that were only in business to chase advertising dollars might be dying a long-overdue death, but if I have anything to say about it, print itself lives.
I started my first print zine, Hip Mama, when I was in college. I passed it along a few years ago, but when I heard that the new publishers were on the brink of going completely digital, I dropped my other projects and decided to reclaim my magazine.
Because print’s not dead to me. None of us needs more screen time. We need tactile, homemade media we can hold in our hands–the kind of media that allows for rumination and slow-sprouting inspiration, not just quick comments and e-fights.
No, print’s not dead. To me, print will always mean life. Yep, I love print. Let me count the ways.
Print Gets Your Hands Dirty.
I’ve never had a traditional 9 to 5 job, but I’ve been working all of my life. I earned my first paychecks by folding and delivering the San Francisco Chronicle in the dark hours of morning. I landed the job when I was eight years old. And for the next six years, my hands were black with the ink of news and self-reliance.
Print Lets Me Unplug My Ego.
When I’m reading a great story online, I sometimes “share” it before I’ve even gotten to the end. My “friends”–many of whom I’ve never met–“like” it while I’m still reading. By the time I get to the last line I’ve already got a couple of comments complimenting me on my fine taste in stories. This makes me feel important and well-connected. Now, what was that great story about?
Print is Intimate.
All media is communication. But reading black marks on a page is the most intimate form of communication that exists. Social media never really mitigates my existential loneliness. But somehow even alone in a candle-lit cave in Tibet, if I’m reading the words of a dead feminist poet, there can be no isolation.
Print Remembers Where it Came From.
I have a lot of my mother’s books. I have some of my grandmother’s books. I even have a few of my great-grandmother’s books. I love it when I stumble on a particular passage that one of them has underlined. Sometime I recognize their shaky handwritten notes in the margins. My mother tended to underline in black. My grandmother preferred red. My great-grandmother used a pencil, but I’ll never erase her words.
Print Gets Warped and Dog-Eared.
A few years back, I edited and published an anthology called Portland Queer. I had it printed and bound old-school by at the local anarchist Eberhardt Press in Portland. It wouldn’t have cost me anything more to produce a digital edition, but I didn’t bother. The first printing of Portland Queer sold out within a few weeks. The collection won a LAMBDA Literary Award. But nothing filled my heart with quite the same pride as seeing a bathtub-warped and dog-eared copy of the book in someone’s bathroom in faraway Santa Fe. Yes, you can read print while you soak in the tub. (Trust me, it’s a very poor idea to take your iPhone into the bathtub).
Print is Sexy.
When my girlfriend’s in bed with her reading glasses on and a book in her hands– that’s sexy. When she’s sitting there squinting at her iPhone, well–not so much–then I just think she’s having an emotional affair on Facebook.
Print Survives the Apocalypse.
I was raised among hippies who perpetually insisted that the shit was about to hit the fan, man, the grid was going down, and civilization would soon collapse into unplugged utopian chaos. My apocalypse survival pack includes a Haruki Murakami book, a copy of the latest Lucky Peach magazine, and a mini letterpress set for emergency zine-making. When the world as we know it ends and we’re all refugees trudging toward an unknown future, I won’t be carrying my laptop.
Print Keeps Our Secrets.
If I read something online, my reading is tracked and tallied by the Big Brother internet brain that targets my tastes and sends ads chasing me from Google to Youtube and back again. But unless I order it from Amazon, hardly anyone can guess what I’m reading in print. And stealthy education, it turns out, is what books were invented for. Up until the third or fourth century A.D., Europeans had to unroll their books to read them. Scrolls evolved into folded pages. Eventually folded pages became gathered pages–what we now call books. Why books instead of scrolls? Early rebel Christians found them smaller and therefore more convenient when it came to keeping spiritual texts hidden from Roman authorities. Plans for the revolution will not go viral.
Print Lives. And Keeps on Living.
This isn’t the first time print media has been declared dead. Back in the ’60s, people without imagination were sure television spelled the end of print. My old journalism professor, Clay Felker, responded by reinventing the American magazine–not with short, ultra-visual media that imitated TV, but with long-narrative and novelistic-style writing that added layers of emotional depth to traditional reporting. He had no problem with the internet. He appreciated online media’s ability to focus on psychographic communities over demographic communities. But new media didn’t mean the death of the old–to each its own narrative style.
Print Doesn’t Get Jealous.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being a purist or a luddite, let me say again that I don’t hate the internet. Lucky for me, print doesn’t care if I watch TV or waste a night reading the Buzzfeed. In fact, I’m relying on new-fangled online crowdfunding at Kickstarter to make sure print lives. Click to it: http://kck.st/13xMuVp See? Print didn’t mind that at all.