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Soothsaying from the Print Crypt

Illustration by Alexandria Nazar

Please put this publication to your face, close your eyes, breath in through your nose, open your eyes, then exhale.

For the last three years of my life, I worked for Take Magazine, a print and web publication profiling New England’s contemporary culture (e.g. fine art, food & drink, music, film, performance, etc.) and the people making it happen. Though not as culturally dense as New York City, San Francisco, Miami, Tokyo or London, we believed that New England as a region has a breadth of cultural hotspots worth investigating. We threw parties, staged luxe photo shoots, paid dozens of freelancers, and published a web edition of Take featuring short form pieces, event listings, and other expertly curated content. But most of all, we loved the print magazine. It was our timeless design object; the thing we agonized over, babied, and bragged about.

We were print mag freaks. 

We’d go to Cummings Printing way up in New Hampshire to watch the magazines get made. We’d tear open the boxes holding the newest editions the second they came through the door. I’d take the magazine in both hands and rock it back and forth like a happy toddler. I’d run my middle finger down its spine. Always, we’d press the new work right up to our faces and huff that particular scent: paper plus ink, musty warehouse, and a note of pure magic. 

All that’s gone. The magazine’s print and web run ended in December 2017, right about the time everything changed. Right around the time when Facebook decided to push down publisher’s original content in favor of content made on its platform by its users, meaning your crypto-fascist uncle’s blog lost traffic, but more people were notified when he went “live” at the center of the so-called Free Speech rally on the Boston Common. 

Today, this sort of selective accountability persists, while techno-optimists wax poetic on using an array of ultrasonic transducers to simulate the sensation of touching a virtual object. Though I’ll never say “print is dead,” I will say the ways in which we experience media, and the physical world more broadly, are changing fast. We’re so enchanted by the panoply of avenues through which we can experience new media, we rarely pause to question if we should, in fact, be celebrating and embracing these channels in the first place.

But, what does it mean? I should know, right? I combed the blogs to learn about SEO, content creation, email scheduling, and helped build a niche print and web media brand for three years. Truth is, I don’t know what the changing new media landscape means for publishers or content creators. It’s also my closely held belief that no one knows, and anyone who says they do is fucking lying.  

But here’s what I do know: print media creates accountability, community and, most of all, lasting sensory experiences that facilitate the proper valuation and comprehension of information. Ever heard of haptic technology? Neatly deemed “the science of touch,” discoveries in this burgeoning arena are some of the few developments that keep me optimistic about the future of print in the ‘new media’ hellscape. 

Research suggests that when our sense of touch is engaged, we comprehend and value new information more than when it’s presented to us on a familiar black rectangle like a cell phone, iPad or (goddess forbid) a Kindle. Our brains can’t map information onto a monolith as well as it can map onto an unfamiliarly weighted page or smelly magazine.

With the small but promising trend of folks ditching Facebook for more reputable publishers, print media is quickly becoming a maze of hyper-niche and highly-branded content—and this is only the beginning. Think of how Netflix picks the perfect sub-genre of films for you: “Cerebral Sci-Fi Thrillers with a Strong Female Lead Based on 20th Century American Novellas.” 

Like that, but imagine the tagline as “presented by Old Spice.” 

The best example of this in the print world is Woolly Magazine, a genius creation by mattress company Casper. The print and web magazine asserts that it’s a publication who steps away from these awfully competitive conversations around wellness and self care and is an exploration of modern life that is, “published and emotionally supported by Casper.” There’s brilliant little back–of–book features on “The Reality Of Lying In Bed All Day” as well as more in depth cultural commentary on dubious trends including crystals and luxe facemasks. Worst of all: the design is excellent. Very clean, fun, and easy to read.

In addition to the fact that brands are starting to understand how our brains value physical design objects over flat digital spaces (thanks, Haptics), it’s my prediction that we’ll see more mags like Woolly because they can wholly ignore a few key challenges that face all print publications: advertisements, content, and budget. For example, Woolly Magazine has only Casper-related ads in the book, all of which are very adorable and barely interrupt the flow of their layouts. In addition, (and no offense to the folks at Woolly) the content basically writes itself. Put any content creator in a room with four to five other smarty-pants word nerds and they’ll have 20 winning ideas around the themes of wellness, self care, relaxation, and sleeping in 20 minutes flat. Then Casper picks up the tab, and voilà. 

Though Boston Art Review (as far as I can tell) isn’t the vanity project of some generous podcast-sponsoring corporation, it still fits into my vague prediction of print media brands that will live. It’s very niche in a good way: identifying an unjustifiable vacancy in its editorial home and filling it. In some ways, Boston Art Review is similar to the magazine I worked for: writing about art and artists, cultural commentary from young people, enticing editorial, etc. But there’s one key difference: Boston Art Review is even more niche than we were, identifying Boston as its home instead of all of New England, while sidestepping temptations toward sponsored content. So keep reading, smell the page, and keep your ear to the ground. We’re just getting started.

This feature was originally published in print in Issue 01: Notions of Place in Spring of 2018. It has been published online on occasion of the Issue 06: Timestamp release.