The infamous line from Ghostbusters (one of many) was taken as a rallying cry for digital publishing five years ago. Magazines and newspapers had reported a drop in print sales and were only supported in some cases by their sister digital titles. The same was true for books where the tremendous growth in eBooks cast shade on the traditional paper version. Many speculated that print had had its day.
Others however, felt that news of print’s demise were being exaggerated. Not least, because many publications that had started as ‘internet-only’ ended up producing print versions of the content either for posterity or to meet demand. The children’s game Moshi Monsters is a great example. Children played online but then showed a tremendous appetite for the printed magazine, not least because they can cut out, colour in and stick to their bedroom walls the characters in a way they can’t on a tablet.
The tactile nature of paper is just one element of print’s Lazarus-style revival. The other is its permanence. The internet is so fleeting. While it is possible to look up an article or issue that first appeared many years ago, it isn’t always the case. A Deloitte survey from 2012, for example, noted that 88% of consumers still preferred print to digital as a format for books and magazines – this survey is no longer available online. When the reader finds something insightful, or experiences a powerful emotional response, or sees something beautiful, they want to keep it.
Gerald Richards, CEO of literacy project 826 National notes that the sense of ownership is a powerful driver: “When we watch students with books, there’s a very different experience – there’s that power of having something physical that they own, particularly when they write and see their name in print: it’s always there. With computers, it’s gone at the touch of a button… Kids take books home and they can keep them.”
So print is still special… and even the next generation with their smartphones and tablets and fearless appetite for technology can still find a place in their hearts for print.
It is in this climate, five years on, that publishers are looking for ways to celebrate print. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has announced it will reissue new hardcover editions of the dystopian classics 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. The move is, in part, to capitalize on the current political climate, the use of the term “alternative facts” by President Trump’s campaign manager has decidedly Orwellian overtones and has reawakened the public’s questioning of the media and state’s control of information. The same could be said of Margaret Atwood’s classic; it’s a kicking, screaming protest against white male autonomy that has terrifying resonance with current affairs. So while print versus digital debate continues, the books’ reissue is proof that powerful content will always have a place.
Both editions’ covers have been given a design revamp to appeal to collectors as well as the next generation of readers. And there’s one last element that’s sure to raise a smile: the new edition of 1984 will be on sale for US$19.84.
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