the evolution of the revolution

cycle world's for sale: along with the rest of the periodical industryLast week’s AdAge announcement of Hachette Filipacchi’s decision to put their enthusiast titles, e.g. Cycle World, on the block sent another round of chills down the spines of print purveyors. That spicy tidbit was followed by AdAge’s own go-to guy Bob Garfield’s rant on the nuclear meltdown of print in one form or another.

The speed with which print journalism is being rendered obsolete is as baffling as it is breathtaking. Because I remember when Nat Geo used to credit film type – Ektachrome, Kodachrome, etc. – next to their images, my interest in print’s place and what’s coming next is more than passing.

Writing (first as glyphs) – the verb – was the first technological breakthrough in communications, eventually followed by literacy. This would be the status quo for millennia, until the next super nova event: moveable type. That, in an elegant pairing with Gutenberg’s newly developed printing press in the 15th century, heralded media’s Big Bang.

In order to be considered mass, communication would have to wait several more centuries for matching distribution to deliver the product. Relief woodcuts and copper and steel engravings provided line only illustration until the dual advent of photography and the halftone screen process in the mid 1800s. That techno advancement, coupled with Mergenthaler’s linotype machine, fueled the inclusion of illustrated daily journalism in one form or another into the fabric of daily life.

In the 20th century, radio, motion pictures and television quickly emerged as electronic competition to print, but for the most part they existed as auxiliary, not dominant, factors. For several decades the public was kept informed by a.m. and p.m. dailies in most major markets. News and culture weekly magazines like Time, Newsweek, Life and Look further fed the public’s appetite for content for much of the mid-20th century.

The introduction of photocomposition fed offset printing in the late ’60s set the stage for widespread publishing participation. The main features of these two new methods were the speed of composition and the economy of reproduction, leading to an exponential explosion of titles; mainly magazine format monthlies that sliced and diced audience counts into more and more slivers.

As we’re now seeing, that powerful print timeline – beginning with Gutenberg and Aldus and dominating thought throughout six centuries – is quickly nearing the end of its lifespan. Digital reproduction and distribution is replacing ink on paper as the most efficient, timely, cost effective and versatile method of reaching the masses with content and design. (Veracity will have to wait.)

Part of my time at the University of Florida was spent at the College of Journalism and Communications, and part of that time was taken up in a course titled Law of Mass Communications. Perhaps today’s publishing troubles are nothing more than a reflection of the now so quaint label of periodicals used to describe the regularly scheduled appearance of pubs en mass.

It’s increasingly clear that mass will be replaced by niche as the on-demand, instantaneous digital media revolution continues to unwind the traditions of the past century and a half, replacing a filtered and predictable publishing model with a neural network of digital ganglia feeding an appetite without patience.

One thought on “the evolution of the revolution

  1. Robin Hartfiel

    I digress, but here is April 2007’s commentary:
    A Failure To Communicate
    Of Old Dogs And New Tricks
    By Robin Hartfiel
    April 2007
    Veteran character actor Strother Martin may have reached the apex of his career when he uttered the immortal line: “What we have here is a failure to communicate” as the exasperated prison warden inCool Hand Luke. The utter agony brought on by Paul Newman’s character bucking the system that leaves Martin spluttering is well worth watching the classic flick.

    However, it appears MPN may have its own failure to communicate. The poison pen letter that leads off this month’s “Feedback” page got me to thinking about the value of print publications and the ever-accelerating pace of the Information Super Highway. In fact, new columnist Otis Hackett asked me about real world benefits to blogging two years ago, at which time I expressed my ignorance and willingness to keep my head buried in the printing press.

    As I told Otis back then, I’m not up to speed enough to know if there is value to blogs for the motorcycle industry yet. I see something like Jason Weigandt’s good natured self-aggrandizement at blog, and I compare that to something like Moonrider’s Motorcycle World where Wendy Moon attempts to espouse conspiracy theories about how bad M$F is (the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s nickname in her world view). Is she the next great whistle blower or just a misguided individual with lots of time to kill?

    In their own ways, both of these blogs apparently reach some sort of audience (or maybe they don’t and these are just frustrated creative writing efforts that get blasted off into cyberspace never to be seen again?). However, both of these exemplars do offer a glimpse at the changing nature of communication. While dinosaurs like me may see the online chat rooms as the domain of the techno nerds and Generation Y kids, the future of communication is staring us in the face, electronically speaking.

    While things are certainly changing, powersports remains an industry built around the visceral experience of actually riding a motorcycle, so I think motorcycle print media may be the last bastion of traditional magazines to fall. No matter how cool a compressed digital movie clip may be or how many more words you can cram into cyber-documents versus printed pages, I still don’t think you can compare the printed pages of a spread in Cycle World or even a trade rag like MPN to an online hit.

    No matter how superconnected Generation Next is going to become, the current crop of dinosaurs inhabiting the motorcycle world still seems to prefer the printed page … Plus, as a wise old parts counter man once told me, “You can’t take the computer into the john with you!”

    Are there upsides to blogs, flogs, podcasts and e-zine virtual magazines? Most definitely! Maybe I’m just too delusional to see the bigger picture and how it will work to benefit MPN’s particular niche, however we have substantially upgraded our online offerings, contrary to what the cyber-wielder of the poison pen says.

    We even tried to get an online version of a dealer forum up and running about five or six years ago without much success. This failure to communicate left me even more reluctant to jump on the “print is dead” bandwagon than ever before. I guess it really is as Clint Eastwood said in another celluloid classic, Dirty Harry, “a man has got to know his limitations.” My limitation is that I’m a print dinosaur, not a cyber geek.

    More recently, my friend John Siebenthaler has been haranguing me about not being a blogger. The irony of me conducting podcasts at the V-Twin Expo and again at the Dealer Expo certainly was not lost on Mr. Siebenthaler. “Yesterday you couldn’t even spell ‘podcaster’ and today you are one!” Touché John. In light of my hypocrisy, maybe it is time for this old dog to learn some new tricks?

    Personally I’ll never understand the satisfaction of bagging more “friends” than the next Internet predator on a MySpace site, though. It may be popular with the kids, but I think I prefer real dealer friends rather than made up cyber-personas (Dr. Nikki Sloan excluded, of course). As a trade-only publication, our total universe holds some 17,500 dealership personnel — real people who are real friends here in the real world.

    Maybe I am just a dodo destined to go the way of the 2-stroke, but I still see print publications, especially those on the trade side, meeting a need. If I’m way off base here, please log onto my blog at my MySpace page … not!
    Blogs, flogs, MySpace friends, podcasts … it’s all Greek to me. Give me good old fashioned print publications anytime! However it looks like print may be going the way of the 2-stroke if you believe the Internet chat rooms. Here I interview Dakar hero Chris Blais for a podcast from the Dealer Expo showfloor.

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