Renaissance Online Magaizne Bytes and Picas

MARCH 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 3



TECHNO, ETC. >>

CURRENT BYTES & PICAS

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Journalist Carl Swanson's careless mistake illuminates treacherous technological waters

IBM may have kicked it to the curb, but the z50 is anything but garbage

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The reality of the AOL, Time Warner merger

Pornography's place within society and on the Internet

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GARY BAUM is a staff technology writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.


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Harmonious Existence
Online and Print Content Live Together in the Ideal World

 
"Our eyes get tired quicker on a computer screen. Plus it isn't very practical. People look at a screen as work, not pleasure. It doesn't have the portability of print."

- New York magazine founding editor Clay Felker, in The New Yorker, May 13th, 1996.

GARY BAUM

Over the past few years my taste in periodicals has changed. Not necessarily the topics or kinds of magazines, but where I choose to read them. I used to subscribe to almost a dozen print publications, but that number has decreased by half since 1997 as I increasingly choose to read online instead.

Now, there are a variety of reasons why I have made the switch, but that is not of importance here. The point is that I have committed myself to reading online publications on an everyday basis and my eyes cannot take it any longer.

I am aware that I have two options. I can either not read online or I can click on the print-friendly version of just about any article on the Internet and have it printed out for me. But I want more. I want entire issues of digital magazines available for massive printouts, replete with a table of contents, page numbers and accompanying artwork. And I think that, in general, online publications would benefit from giving this to me. I do not have a problem with most digital magazine content, and that is because it is kept short and to the point, befitting the medium. Brief news nuggets, pointers, and various detritus works great for me. In fact, I am okay with any single piece that is a thousand words or less, such as this one. But where it gets to be a problem is when some Internet publications decide to regularly publish longer pieces that are worth reading. Again, I have those two choices that I just mentioned, but sometimes I wonder why the whole publication cannot be printed in a nice, neat stack of 8.5 x 11-inch pieces of paper with which I can curl up in bed.

I mean, think about the possibilities. The reader could pick specific articles, or the entire issue of the publication could be printed at once. Custom-made table of contents and accompanying page numbers would vary with each version of the printout, depending on which stories are chosen. The word count, URL, and other associative information can be listed along with each article. Hyperlinked words can be replaced by the URL in parentheses following them. Online advertisers can have their ads reprinted on the paper, which might lead to better business. The customized, printed magazines could also either be e-mailed or faxed. Furthermore, depending on the reader's preference, artwork of one sort or another could be added or deleted as well.

Granted, there are a variety of compatibility issues to overcome when trying to create a universal set of parameters that would go along with reader-printed copies of online publications. For instance, monitor size, resolution, browser, and printer type are only a few of the obstacles to overcome. But with devices such as the Adobe Acrobat and its Portable Document Format (PDF), along with a firm commitment to standards on the part of most major digital magazines, printable online publications could create a suitable answer to the "dead tree vs. online" publishing question. Robert Niles, the executive producer of the Denver Rocky Mountain News' Web site, explained in a Seven Questions interview last year that "[print] newspapers should reinvent themselves to focus on providing perspective and telling great narrative stories." Specifically, those stories that "don't play as well on the 'net." In other words, he agrees that the longer, more in-depth pieces that I was describing earlier are much better suited to being read offline.

In the future it may be safe for a publisher to consider that online will be the primary source of content instead of print. Indeed, the thought process among large media publishing companies such as Gannett and Knight Ridder might not be whether or not to have an Internet site to supplement its publications' printed content but how they should supplement their digital content with a printed version.

This new way of thinking can be brought about by creating entire issues of easily printed material. Think about it. If exclusively online purveyors of content such as Renaissance Online, Salon, Feed, and Slate offered slick, easy-to-read, user-printed "issues" of their publications, their work would obviously flow through the offline world more easily. For example, just as with printed media such as newspapers, when the reader is done with their self-published online publication, they may leave it around a public place such as a coffeehouse or a subway station. Its physical presence will not only induce others to pick it up and take a look but the branding opportunity is palpable.

Minneapolis Star Tribune publisher John Schueler was recently quoted in a Twin Cities alternative newspaper as believing that it is obvious that newspapers and other forms of print journalism will need to commit to a strong online presence. However, he added, "as far as I can see, this business will always be about ink on dead trees." Well, until the technology comes along which will make digital content more portable and easier on the eyes than its offline counterpart, he just might be right.

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