Much has been made of the demise of Borders/Angus & Robertson/REDgroup in the media and what this means for book shop owners and lovers and authors, many who are of the firm opinion that the whole thing is more about mismanagement than the creep of online and its cost-competitive ways. People abandoning print? No way. But more than that, people are still craving the community interaction – and opportunity for "shelf discovery" – that in-store purchasing provides. They are even a comfort in such times.
The Bible, birth certificates, family albums, school photos, childhood books, travel diaries, love letters, party invitations, thank-you notes, shopping lists, obituaries, school yearbooks, classic novels, theatre programs, travel guides, cherished columns, favourite magazines… As online becomes more ‘mass’ and print more ‘niche’, the matter may become more about preserving the latter’s status as covetable, special, timeless, intimate and personal, as much as credible and authoritative; less so accessible, affordable, transportable. That may mean a higher premium and less frequency, but we can contend ourselves online in the meantime.
There's something intrinsically assuring and tangible about print that may have its roots in childhood Golden Books, but moreso in who it was that was sharing with us these stories: our parents, prep teachers, aunts, uncles and older siblings. The act of reading, of storytelling, brings us together in a physical proximity that online can't quite replicate, try as bloggers like myself might in the surrounds of local cafes, and try as website masters might to replicate the feeling, the love online, I feel like they're but a fleeting fancy to the long-term engagement and stability of ugg-boot cosy print (though some do manage to meet the intimacy quotient).
In his most recent 'Who We Are' column, David Dale tells us that in 2010, 5.9 million Australians went to a library at least once and 1.5 million of us went more than 20 times, while 66.2 million books were bought, a rise of 0.4% on 2009 even in the absence of new Harry Potter and Twilight tomes. Dale also noted while print, in all its forms, "might be paler and thinner than it was 20 years ago...it has decades of action in it yet".
"Print is dead is as much of a myth as the paperless office that was touted with the emergence of the internet as a communication medium," says Ravi Pathare, managing director of niche magazine retailer mag nation. "And I am not saying this because the survival of Mag Nation is intricately linked with survival of the printed word. I am convinced the two can co-exist very harmoniously. The electronic age trumping the print medium would be too simplistic an explanation for unfolding of the recent events, as there are a few other factors at play... Funnily enough, and one more arguement in favour of "print is not dead", is that most of the seekers of [the niche titles we sell] are the young consumers who are internet savvy but see these publications as collectibles to treasure."
In light of this, as well as Frankie magazine's circulation rises and small improvements in teen magazine readership, I was encouraged to read that even teens, too, have an affiliation for print: in Girlfriend magazine's survey of teen social media habits, 78% said they'd prefer to send out personal hand-written party invitations over setting up a Facebook event.
This suggests that while everyday thoughts and activities can be seamlessly (and too often carelessly) shared online, the special things have their place reserved in print. Selecting, writing and distributing invitations has not lost its place. Given social media and its anonymity can be an anxious-making medium for young women, print may also hold an especially reassuring place for them (so long as said place is devoid of stressors).
Further, in a recent LSNglobal.com report commissioned by News Magazines, the authors noted that "the sit-back, passive experience of paper is sufficiently immersive – in its own way – and different from the skip-here, flick-there active experience of all other media to keep its calm place" in a media environment fragmented by "taggable, searchable, clickable" content, mobile and e-reader apps and multi-platform brand experiences. And, as was noted last week, Conde Nast has also made moves to capture the print experience in a new way for the buying public by showcasing its titles in its own newsstand.
My husband's grandfather is very ill, having taking a turn in his health just after his 90th birthday. In his last days, hopefully weeks, we've been taking turns keeping him company. Last night, my husband, mother-in-law and I sat around his bed taking turns reading from Evan McHugh's Birdsville: My Year in the Back of Beyond. He loved it. And as I read the last paragraphs, he nodded off into a peaceful, blissful sleep, just as I did when my parents read my Golden Books, and just as my nieces did a few weeks before when I read them one of Puffin's beautiful little Our Australian Girl books.
Moments like that just can't be replicated online; some things – the really special things – are only fit for print.
Girl With a Satchel