From pixels to the printing press

It’s no longer just a question of paper vs. digital with many
publishers taking their online content to print

In this digital age, it has become essential for printed magazines to have an online presence. Some take it more seriously than others. This magazine, for instance, has a very strong presence online, its blog and Twitter feed contributing to the broader online design conversation. Sister publication Design Week has just redesigned, and a key part of that was the launch of a blog to give it more of an online voice. And of course the arrival of the iPad is increasing the attention publishers give to digital as they cross their fingers and hope to finally earn some money from these new channels. But for now, the printed item remains core to publishing.

Digital begets print

Yet there is a small but significant number of publishers who have done things the other way round, starting with digital and moving to print. They are typified by recent Brit Insurance Designs of the Year graphics category winners, The Newspaper Club, who over the past year have taken what was a one-off idea and developed it into a tool for providing easily available print to people outside the print, design and media worlds.

Every day my post contains items to review on my magCulture blog, but few have been as zeitgeisty as the piece of tabloid newsprint that turned up one day at the start of 2009. Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet 2008 was a 32-page collection of just that – material that friends (and bloggers) Ben Terrett and Russell Davies had read on other blogs and websites and wanted to share further. Collections of guitar ephemera and stories of mental detoxing mix with design commentary and photographic records of meals eaten. A loose combination of long form prose, Twitter feeds, photography and opinion.

The Newspaper Club
Partly a bit of Christmas fun, it was also an experiment to see how digital and print might combine. As Terrett explains, “TOFHWOTI reminded us that while the business model of most newspapers is broken, the form factor itself – that sort of paper, that size, with ink on it – was still brilliant. Even the most digital of digital natives enjoyed seeing their words on it and found it an appealing object.” He also makes the point that 8,000 word pieces are more easily read in print than online.

A year later the same team have launched The Newspaper Club, a publishing system based on their experience with TOFHWOTI that allows anyone to upload content and produce small runs (hundreds) of newsprint publications using newspaper press downtime. This isn’t the future of newspapers – Terrett is clear on that – but it is a very elegant way to combine the ease of online publication with making something tangible for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to publish. “People love it, they’re completely delighted when they get their first set of newspapers”, says Terrett. Users can work with professional design software and upload PDFs or just upload content into supplied templates. Clients so far have included several schools and a group of architects; one couple even used The Newspaper Club to publish their
wedding photographs.

Australian designer Michael Bojkowski is another person fascinated by the possibilities of mixing digital and print publishing. His LineFeed blog provides an opinionated outlook on graphic design, starting with text but now including video and audio content. He’s experimented with various methods of adding a printed channel to the project and has settled on print-on-demand publishers MagCloud, with whom he has published two magazine compilations under the LineRead name.

“LineFeed and LineRead are companion pieces,” Bojkowski explains. “There are things both do well and other things they simply cannot achieve.

Resolution is a problem online whereas you can have images that are as big and lush as you like in print. You have to search through a magazine to find what you want whereas as you get instant access to digital archives online.” The project is worth checking out for its visual identity as well as for its content, the design and writing complementing each other well.

Collectibility
The It’s Nice That blog has travelled a similar path. Co-founder Will Hudson says much of the work they publish online “was designed for print and never intended to be seen as a 470 × 305 pixel image”. Preparing the printed edition demands a more measured approach and provides a collectibility that eludes the digital version. Bojkowski agrees. “Printed matter is harder to discard, so it gives online content a sense of history.” Terrett adds that web pages lack any sign or context of age: “Online content doesn’t age like paper does,” he says. “If you found a newspaper from ten years it would feel old, dusty and yellowed. You’d know it wasn’t printed yesterday. Webpages lack that quality.”

My experience with the magCulture blog is slightly different, but leads me to the same conclusion. While the WordPress software I use has a very capable search function, few people use it, preferring to check the latest post rather than trawl the archive. For this reason I too am planning to print a selection of
archive posts to open them to a wider audience again. Using The Newspaper Club, of course.

Jeremy Leslie runs the magCulture.com blog

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