I’ve been noticing for a while now that there are a lot of stories out there about the demise of print — stories that have the same trajectory: news of some paper substitute (the Kindle being the most recent), news of some grand paper institution going under, and then something about how MUCH paper means to us and how awful it would be if it disappeared.
I ignore these stories. Really. I’m too busy reading the next book on my list of things to read and writing more things for other people to read someday. But today I am thinking more about them, because I have been reading (in print, I’d add) about the dire straits many print newspapers find themselves in and also about National Geographic being in trouble. What kind of world would it be if we didn’t have National Geographic to bring us beautiful pictures of what we can’t go and visit ourselves? And what would we do without newspapers to dig up the dirt on people who’re doing bad things and hiding behind powerful institutions? So, today, I am taking stock of my relationship to words on paper and words online. Why? I’d like to know whether I’ve deserted my paper love without even knowing it.
It turns out, I get plenty of words electronically (blogs! pictures of celebrities wearing bad clothes!). But they don’t replace the things I get on paper. I still read newspapers in their print form, because I like being reminded that there is, in fact a world turning one day at a time. There’s something about having the paper hit my porch that makes me feel like I’m part of that world. I rarely look at the news online, unless it’s a story that’s developing more quickly than it can be covered in a daily paper (the election, for example). But it’s been years since I’ve looked up the starting time for a movie in the paper. It’s faster to do that online. And I’m afraid that what’s happened to newspapers is that maybe they haven’t figured out how to replace their money making stuff (like theater ads and classifieds) with other ways of getting people to pay for the news.
As for books, I’m devoted to paper. I recently decided that I don’t need to get a Kindle. I only read one book at a time when I go out of town, or at most two, and I don’t want to spend over $300 on something that basically compresses books so you can carry a lot of them around with you. But someday, if the Kindle can give me something that expands on print, I might buy it. Many magazines are already doing this “print plus” thing beautifully —- every magazine I subscribe to has a really terrific website, which I think is the most successful way for a magazine to stay vital — by using the web as an adjunct to the magazine, rather than a replacement.
The New Yorker, for example, has a great website — the fiction podcasts are just one of many cool features. And my favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, has a really, really good website, which I even paid extra to access because I love its search function. Poetry Magazine? Another fine web presence. The Poetry Tool is particularly wonderful. (Want to find a poem appropriate to celebrate your friend’s engagement? This site will lead you to John Donne’s The Bait. You should read that poem today, you know. Life is short. John Donne matters.)
So, today I subscribed to National Geographic. One of my children is a non-fiction, magazine reader. I think he’d like National Geographic. Our subscription ran out some time ago and I didn’t renew it because they were too young for it. Now, they’re not. Do they have a good website? Yes, they do. How much does a subscription cost? $15. That’s really, really cheap, if you think about it — $1.10 a month for a lot of pictures and articles you can read in bed at night. The funny thing is that I have no idea where I read that National Geographic was having trouble — all I know is that I’m glad I thought about it yesterday, because my kid is going to love getting it.
I am certainly not representative of the public as a whole. A lot of people don’t read. But, among people who do read, I’m going to guess that I’m pretty typical in my love of both things on paper and things online. They’re different media, and so it makes sense that they fill different needs. But what I’m most interested in is seeing how they can enhance each other — how one’s love of paper need not be diminished by one’s love of the online world. I’m in favor of marriages — where paper and the web make beautiful music together, rather than one killing the other off. There’s a long, weird metaphor in there, but I’ve got a lot of reading to do today, so I’ll stop right here.