Can electronic publishing ever bring us The Joy of Print?

Kevin Heslin, an editor at Mission Critical magazine, recently wrote a blog post called The Joy of Print. He extolled the virtues of feeling a printed edition of a magazine in your hand when you’re the guy with key responsibilities for making it happen. Interestingly enough, Kevin edits a magazine that tries to cover the latest information for the computer experts tasked with building and maintaining data centers — those vital organs so many organizations have at the heart of their enterprises these days.

His role isn’t an easy balancing act — using print to spread news about a digitally driven industry. As he wrote:

The Internet pressures my colleagues and me to produce information that readers find the most useful. Yet another high wire to walk. So it is with anticipation and trepidation that I ask you to check your mailboxes, for you will judge just how well we did this time around.

Magazines have a long lead time and whether they come out monthly or even weekly, they risk being well behind the latest news spreading on the Internet. It wasn’t long ago that Twitter issued a service advisory, apologizing for some tweets being delayed “by as much as 5 minutes.” That’s the world we live in now – a world in which having to wait a few extra minutes for an update on something can be incredibly frustrating for some people.

Kevin also wrote in his post that he enjoys the Internet and all it has to offer, so he’s hardly a Luddite who thinks we should all be waiting patiently by our mailboxes each month for the glossy compilation of news. Still, he raises an excellent point about printed materials having to meet more exacting standards from start to finish than anything done in the digital world.

He wrote:

…much thought must go into every issue, as any errors or misstatements cannot be corrected. Though many blogs are well written and thoughtful, bloggers can and do revisit their entries and correct errors. Some label these changes updates or corrections, and others merely change the text…I like print because of the requirement to get the story right the first time. And contrary to the public perception, editors don’t like playing it safe. We are the high-wire acts of the publishing world, risking all on every permanent word.

As the author on two blogs and a regular contributor to several online-only publications, I am certainly supportive of this new era of electronic mediums delivering news and commentary. But as a former newspaper reporter and editor, I can totally relate to what Kevin is saying about having to get it right the first time. I strive to do that with my blog posts and online articles. Most of the time, I’m able to pull it off but, alas, to err is human, right?

If you are involved in distributing news or opinion through electronic publishing, are you being as careful as you should be to make sure everything is factually correct but also that simple mistakes like typos are addressed? In a job I had years ago, there was an employee who handled graphics in our department. She was very good at what she did, but she was a stickler for editing, proofreading and double-checking everything to death. I once heard her described by a colleague as being “paralyzed by perfection.” So, obviously, there is a happy medium. Don’t ever be afraid to release something because you need to check it over “just one more time.” But maybe slow down a little and think about how you’d handle that piece of writing if it were going to be printed and mailed — with no chance for editing or retraction once it’s out the door.

Perhaps those who have never produced a printed publication are reading this and thinking it’s a stressful job and they’d rather have the joy of knowing they can simply go back and edit or update their writing within seconds. I’m sure editors like Kevin Heslin might envy you in some ways. But you should envy him, too. Holding a finished product in your hand is a wonderfully proud moment. It’s The Joy of Print, and I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever be brought that experience by electronic publishing.

(Photo courtesy of Longzero’s Flickr feed.)

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8 comments on “Can electronic publishing ever bring us The Joy of Print?

  1. I hear you on this one, for sure.

    As eBooks and such become more and more popular, I keep thinking of that format as a way to better distribute my independently published novel.

    Printing costs are too much for me to make any kind of money off it, yet there is almost no cost for selling eBooks. But, many people like having a physical copy of books. The other issue with eBooks are the different formats. What works for one reader, doesn’t always work for another.

    Regarding editing, my published book had a few mistakes slip through the cracks and I can’t easily go back and change those, like I could on a blog or website. Ever since then, I’ve been more and more careful when it comes to revising and editing.

    One quick anecdote: I had a book signing at a convention last year and a woman came up to me and said “I bought your book, but I bought the .PDF, so I don’t have anything for you to sign.” I improvised and signed one of my promo cards for her (and made sure she got one of my free podcast cds).

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    • Great way to improvise Dan! It is tricky getting fans to sign your book when it’s all electronic, isn’t it? I guess I hadn’t really thought of that aspect before.

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  2. I like this post, Ari, as it helps me understand why I have a tough time blogging — I approach it like a print product out of (long) habit. Even when I blogged as a fan of the MSU Women’s Basketball team, I approached it as if I’d be writing a print story. I’m trying to adjust to the differences while maintaining some of my journalistic roots.

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    • Thanks Robin. As Nathan mentioned in his comment, quality of writing and stories is still important online, but we at least have the safety net of “update post” for those times when we do make a mistake. So, if you need to take extra time to improve the quality, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think you can let it “go to print” a little faster online than you can in a printed publication though.

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  3. I think you’re absolutely right that print comes with a satisfaction that digital media can seldom match. I’m not sure I agree with your point about print having to meet a higher standard of quality.

    When you put something out online, you’re taking a risk with your brand. If it’s not good, you’ll lose trust. People will stop coming back to your publication and asking for more. With the long tail of increased competition, digital publishers will be forced to make every article count.

    I don’t read blogs like TechCrunch because their signal to noise ratio is way off. They write too many articles -most of which are irrelevant and poorly written. I might check out an occasional story, but I’ll never be a regular reader. I don’t think many people are. Our attention is too valuable for that.

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    • Thanks for the comment Nathan. I agree with you that the overall quality of writing and the quality of stories in general is important for online publishers as well.

      My point was that if they make a mistake, it’s really easy for them to fix it — certainly easier than it is for magazine publishers, for example.

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  4. I happen to be one of those people who loves reading a physical magazine/book. I spend nine hours a day in front of the computer, and the last think I want to do when I get home is read my favorite magazine or book on the computer too. Also makes me wonder if all of this online reading will increase profits in the optometry field!

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