Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Making the Transition from Print to Digital

By Judith Ross for Talking Writing

Just over two years ago I returned home after five days in the hospital to find a glossy paper life raft waiting for me. It was the January issue of House and Garden magazine. In my first week of recovery that issue provided many forms of entertainment. When I had the energy and focus to read, there was the always-delightful letter from the magazine’s editor, Dominique Browning, that paved the way for articles both short and long. When I was tired or sad and needed diversion, there were photographs of interesting interiors and gardens to peruse. When I was in the mood for both words and pictures there were photo captions and other details to take in.

That well-worn copy sits with about 24 others on a shelf in my home office, their colorful yet tasteful spines brightening the room. Sadly, there won’t be any more joining them. Like many of its kind, House and Garden is no more. Those of us who grew up knowing the excitement of finding a new National Geographic and/or New Yorker in the mailbox must adjust.

This weekend The New York Times ran a piece describing the launch party for Tina Brown’s Talk magazine http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/business/media/03carr.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Talk%20magazine&st=cse. The piece describes the party as the end of an era rather than the christening of a “new era of media fabulousness” as had been intended.

Here we are. As a reader, I am sad.

As a writer, I am sad but excited. Digital media seems like an intriguing new country to explore. There are different customs to learn and another language to master. Yet given the digital world's many comings and goings, one has to wonder: What will stick and what will go away?

In addition, there are many questions about what online publishing means for writers. A newsletter I have contributed to for several years transitioned from print to online this past spring. In the process it has halved what it pays freelancers.

So dear readers and writers, where do we go from here?


  1. I think you nailed it, Judith. Sad for readers of magazines, journals, and newspapers, but very exciting for writers. I imagine it will open up many new places to "sell" work because publishers are keeping print and paper costs out of the equation.

    This may be a little wishful thinking on my part but I think books - fiction and non-fiction - will not suffer the same fate of disappearing altogether. Smaller print runs maybe, but not extinction. The New Yorker recently printed an article about the drawbacks of Kindle. And Kindle, though it might be handy for commuters even given the drawbacks, is not something most of us want to curl up with in bed at night.

  2. I'm not feeling very sentimental about print magazines. I'm not sure why. I almost love *House and Garden* because you loved it and needed it so much at the time, Judith. I feel how much comfort it gave to you, but I can't say the same for equivalent magazines for me, even the *New Yorker*. Maybe it's that nose-up-against-the-glass phenomenon that David Carr talks about it the article, not being one of the elite writers in the old days, so what the heck: why not embrace the New Order?

    The big issues that have yet to settle in the digital arena are how writers will make money and how good investigative reporting will be funded. But I'm feeling more positive about the latter--journalists are migrating on-line, all sorts of citizen reporting is going on, the powers that be can't cackle too loudly yet--and as for money, well.... Few writers were making $5/word in the good old days, either. Not to say that I don't want some, but I'm starting to feel that the entrepreneurial energy in the digital realm will make something happen. And after all, those big glossy ads in the luxe print editions were just ads. For them, I never wanted to sell my soul.


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