Thursday, December 20, 2007
107 Magazine Predictions for 2008
By Dylan Stableford
It's that time of year again, when magazine editors and publishers reflect on the perennially "crazy" year past ("What the hell just happened?") and bravely look to the future. Questions are pondered ("Which magazines will fold? Which will survive? And just how will Jann Wenner commemorate the Rolling Stone's 41st anniversary?"). Answers are elusive. Nonetheless, FOLIO: asked some of the media industry's best and brightest to send us their predictions for 2008. Their responses follow, largely unedited, in the order they were received.
NAME: Andy Cohn
TITLE: VP, publisher, the Fader2008 PREDICTION: Even more magazines will fold in 2008 than in 2007. They will mostly be magazines that are established titles part of larger publishing companies who are steeped in the traditional (i.e. antiquated) model of publishing. Niche, targeted titles (yeah, like mine) will continue to thrive based on our ability to adapt to the challenges posed by the drastic changes taking place within the industry.
NAME: Emily Gordon
TITLE: Managing Editor, Print; editor, emdashes.com2008 PREDICTION: Magazines and movie studios will lease celebrity wombs for launch tie-ins, following the success of Jamie Lynn Spears' efforts for Juno. Magazines will both thrive and multiply, they'll just be tinier--five of them will fit in an iPhone case--and printed in OED-sized type, thanks to a new Lasik procedure that permits super-microscopic reading. A surprise change in campaign-financing rules will limit candidates' ads to text messages sent on the hour to every American through November 2008 (on the half hour for registered Independents); staffers will spend their time developing elephant and donkey emoticons and abbreviations for "reduced carbon emissions" and " Iraqi interim government," and there is no option to unsubscribe.
NAME: Rex Hammock
TITLE: President, Hammock publishing and Rexblog blogger2008 PREDICTION: I'll admit, I haven't yet figured out what exactly happened in the magazine-world in 2007. I think it was a fairly decent year for magazines, except I'm fairly certain that Samir Husni and I are the only two people alive who think that. Last year, I predicted that David Carey would be the magazine dude-of-the-year. I think I was right. So, for 2008, while I don't have actual predictions, I do have wishful thoughts in the guise of predictions:1. There won't be a recession in 2008.2. Despite the lack of a recession, paper prices will fall.3. Magazine websites will no longer be measured by page-views, allowing Forbes.com (and others) to stop using pageview-inflating "slide shows."4. Steve Jobs will make an announcement on January 15 that will change everything we think about the portable digital devices we formerly called laptops -- and, therefore, the concept of eBooks and digital magazines.5. No one in Britney Spears family will appear on the cover of a magazine in 2008.6. The Titans will go 14-2 during the 2008 season. Oh, wait. That's for another wisful thinking list I'm keeping.
NAME: Andy Borowitz
TITLE: Creator, BorowitzReport.com2008 PREDICTION: Rupert Murdoch will reduce the size of the Wall Street Journal by removing the facts.
NAME: Mark Newman
TITLE: Editor, Southern Breeze2008 PREDICTION: With as many times as I've been laid off from huge, multinational publishing companies, I would not hazard to guess about the future because I've been knocked around too much by the past!
NAME: Maer Roshan
TITLE: Editor-in-chief, Radar magazine2008 PREDICTION: Dave Zinczenko will get his own show on NBC.
NAME: Paul Conley
TITLE: Owner, Paul Conley Consulting2008 PREDICTION: 1. I'm more than a little worried about b-to-b publishing revenue in 2008. Print advertising will continue to shrink, and I think it's going to be a tough year for online advertising too. Even worse, as we've seen in the past, tough times in b-to-b often lead to ethical disasters. I predict that as money grows tight, more publishers will cross the ad/edit line and engage in the sorts of behaviors that embarrass us all. 2. It's hard to launch new products when b-to-b editorial staffs are as lean as can be. But with little evidence that revenue will rise, I don't expect an increase in hiring. Rather, I predict smart publishers will turn to more creative and low-risk methods. I expect an increase in outsourced deals in which publishers offer a revenue split to freelancers to create and manage new online products.
NAME: Samir Husni
TITLE: Mr. Magazine2008 PREDICTION: Only two people can tell you the future: God and a fool ... Since I know I am not God, I am not going to make a fool of myself ... however, the magazine business will still be alive and kicking...more will be born than die ... Happy New Year.
NAME: Bob Sacks
TITLE: President/Publisher Magazine consultant2008 PREDICTION: The writers' strike will end and the public will in droves not return to TV as it was. Prime time will get shorter and shorter as it nears its death knell. The public at large moves onto the more stylized, personal, leisure time pursuits of MeMedia. Newspapers continue the trend to be magazines, and magazines become more focused and highly niche-ified. Time Warner will continue to go to the gym and shed off its excess weight, becoming a leaner and more focused fighting media machine. The Social networking hubbub will mature, peak, drift and then meld into what it should have been all along - a niche group of (fill in the blank) music listeners, readers, dentists, or manically connected wannabes. Next year will be like this year, except more highly concentrated, with more old time magazine standards fluttering before our eyes and evaporating in a cloud of shareholder smoke. Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine, will admit that BoSacks has been right all along. Oh yes, and that in 2008 BoSacks will send out the 13,500th edition of the oldest known e-newsletter on the planet.
NAME: Jason Chupick
TITLE: Co-Editor, PRNewser2008 PREDICTION: Magazines will continue to push writers to blog when many don't want to, yet they won't put the push behind them to generate much traffic. Portfolio is a good example, as were the Business2.0 blogs. The quote I've been honing is something like "take your rightful place in the media-eat your lunch or someone else will." PR for media properties who put content online in realtime works, and you can see it work. It's a matter of having the eye to know what parts of the content will get the blogosphere, link aggregators and even competing MSM interested (as is the case when brokering a scoop to get credit) excited.
NAME: Joe Ciarallo
TITLE: Co-Editor, PRNewser2008 PREDICTION: Just like Brandon Holley went from Jane to Yahoo and Erick Schonfeld from Business 2.0 to TechCrunch, we will see more print people move to online media. Whether it is because of publications shutting down, as it was with Brandon and Erick, or because people want to get "ahead of the curve," the digital shift will continue in a big way, and we will see several more high profile journalists start their own blog network, ala Om Malik and GigaOM. From a PR perspective, journalists will continue getting flooded with pitches, both good and bad, and the lines between media, advertising and PR will continue to blur.
NAME: Melissa Walker
TITLE: Former editor, Elle Girl, and author2008 PREDICTION: Brandon Holley leads Yahoo to new levels of editorial success with her crack team of smart-girl editors who miss Elle Girl and Jane.
NAME: Lance Ulanoff
TITLE: Editor-in-chief, PC Magazine2008 PREDICTION: Magazines are cool again. With advertisers and marketers stinging over diminishing digital returns, many will return to their tried and true friend: the print book. This will have positive and negative repercussions. Readers will heartily embrace thicker books and glossy ads, but marketers still won't have learned how to measure impact. By the end of the year many will be trying to come up with a grand plan from print-ad response measurement and others will go crawling back to the Web. End result: The Web continues to grow at a healthy pace, but magazines recoup just enough advertising to find new life and live to fight another day.
NAME: Keith Kelly
TITLE: Columnist, New York Post2008 PREDICTION: Chaos and confusion and uncertainty around every bend. CEOs on the hook and under fire. Mergers, shutdowns, selloffs. In other words, pretty much like this year, only worser. Meanwhile, in a big surprise, ad pages rise by 4 percent for magazines, a beneficiary of the lingering writers strike and saturation of TV and radio markets with political ads.
NAME: Jonathan Simpson-Bint
TITLE: President, Future US2008 PREDICTION: In terms of magazines, I think the web will bite harder on specialist press in '08. I don't have a crystal ball, but it seems like as fast as we're all running to build content and community, the aggregators are running faster and getting smarter. They're our biggest enemy, no question. Oh, and the economy. Mustn't forget that. R********s often help specialist press as they tend to focus people back on the things they really care about, but a major r******** will be bad news for everyone.
NAME: Jamie Lendino
NAME: Henry Donahue
TITLE: CEO, Discover magazine2008 PREDICTION: 2008 is going to be a surprisingly good advertising year for magazines. Ignoring the useless hype that pits print and online against each other, publishers will continue to get better at selling integrated packages that highlight the strengths of both forms of media. At the same time, the election year will drive a surge in corporate image advertising, particularly on the topics of energy conservation and the environment.
NAME: Reed Phillips
TITLE: Managing partner, desilva + phillips2008 PREDICTION: Last year, I said I'd be watching with great interest the possible sale or break-up of the Tribune Company. Now, I think it is safe to predict that the company will be sold any day now. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Less than an hour after Reed sent this over, prediction #1 came true.] My prediction for 2008 is that by year-end valuations for newspapers, specifically, and print media, in general, will start to rebound.
NAME: John Brady
TITLE: Editorial consultant, visiting professional at Scripps School of Journalism2008 PREDICTION: In the year ahead, I envision Newsweek pulling ahead of Time magazine as the leading newsweekly. The redesign of Newsweek strikes me as being more successful than the overhaul of Time in the past year. Time's choice of columnists (especially William Kristol, not to mention the ongoing silliness of Joel Stein) has diminished the magazine's core credibility; and the featurizing of the news is too random and at times too frivolous for the hardcore news reader. Look for a shakeup in the upper upper ranks of the magazine before year's end.
NAME: Rachel Pine
TITLE: SVP, branding and partnerships, Doubledown Media2008 PREDICTION: In 2008, we will see the first stirrings of privacy as "the new black." While social networking will still be huge, it will start to favor smaller communities made up of people who are invited to join because they are part of a particular affinity group. These people will be of tremendous value to marketers and will not be interested in activities such as "friending" a ham sandwich. A decline in the number of people who are willing to blog/comment/post video, etc for free on sites that are profiting others. In short, 2008 will be the year that a lot of online trends (and the people who use them) will begin to normalize. Having 236,258 Facebook friends does not make you popular. Creating content that generates ad impressions that pay someone else is, for the most part, ridiculous.
NAME: Jim Spanfeller
TITLE: President and CEO, Forbes.com2008 PREDICTION: If history looks back at 2007 as the tipping point for interactive media and the ad dollars that have migrated to the Web, pushing it to a position of prominence as a central media platform for advertisers, 2008 will be the year of the Interactive Marketer. CMOs now get the Web and have personal experience around its ability to power their brands, activate their customers and fuel their data analysis and marketing allocation optimization. The Web is still only at the beginning of its evolution and will remain a source of media innovation for some time, but the focus going forward will be less about the media and more about the marketer. The digitization of media will continue to disrupt the traditional media model and we will see more "late to the party" web acquisition and initiatives from major media players. From this perspective, 2008 will be a make or break year for companies like Time Warner and many of the major newspaper companies in the country.
NAME: Simon Kelly
TITLE: Chief Operating Officer, Story Worldwide2008 PREDICTION(S): 1. Brands will stop dipping their toes in the water and jump in with both feet, realizing they can turn themselves into fully-fledged media channels, supported by an 'Authority to Publish' that is rock-solid.2. Several large brands will appoint digital agencies will provide the lead AOR direction. Sadly only a few will be brave enough.3. Clients will realize that the usual branding agencies' approach to organizing hierarchies of brands and sub-brands is like re-arranging the deckchairs on the titanic. Pretty, organized, but liable to sink at any moment.4. Someone will make sense of Facebook.5. Web 2/3.0 will become 4.0 by March and then we can all move on as it'll become Web whatever. It just is.6. The penny will drop that that technology-based digital solutions are not the answer. We've been to this dance before - CRM was supposed to be the new nirvana but only resulted in enabling marketers to slice and dice to the Nth degree but delivering nothing of value to the customer. Web whatever is in danger of repeating the same mistake. Brands need to step up and own this transition otherwise Microsoft/Yahoo/Google et al will convince everyone there's no alternative to the latest technology solutions, forgetting the customer's information needs in the process. Publishers can help. Brands need to publish.7. OTT (Over The Top) delivery on the back of cable/broadband into the home will change the relationship between consumers and the networks.8. None of the above will happen and something new will emerge unexpectedly, making a mockery once again of the current state of things and any attempt to predict the outcome.
NAME: Ron Mwangaguhunga
TITLE: Co-Editor, FishbowlNY2008 PREDICTION: 2008 will be the year of luxury magazines just as the United States heads into a recession. The big topic will be whether or not all the excess is necessary, and does it stir class resentments. Lou Dobbs will probably chime in with some interesting analogies to Nero's Rome. Vogue's September 2008 issue will probably weigh as much as a Jaguar - the car not the animal. The Wall Street Journal will ramp up its luxury and fashion reporting with a big presence behind the tents-and at the parties-at Bryant Park Fashion Week. And NBC Universal will purchase TheStreet.com, making Jim Cramer a rich(er) man.
NAME: Neal Ungerleider
TITLE: Co-Editor, FishbowlNY2008 PREDICTION: As much as it surprises me to say this, 2008 will prove to be a good year for the Wall Street Journal. Despite News Corporation's many faults, the WSJ has been treading water during the past five years of Bancroft ownership and was in dire need of vision. The combination of Rupert Murdoch's advanced age (76 years old!) and the massive sums of money spent on acquiring Dow Jones point to the fact that it's a legacy purchase more than anything else. The WSJ is blessed with an intelligent, strong-willed and competitive newsroom (and, yes, op-ed staff) who will ultimately be able to rein in the hijinx of News Corp.'s bean counters and Harvard MBA yahoos. The combination of the Wall Street Journal's talented staff with News Corporation's endlessly deep wallet will be beneficial for the newspaper, the parent corporation and the general public-something none of us thought just three months ago.
NAME: Jeffrey S. Klein
TITLE: Chairman, 1105 Media2008 PREDICTION: There will be a modest economic downturn, but it will wreak havoc with ad budgets which are the easiest line item to be cut by short-sighted CEOs. As a result, the reallocation of ad budgets from print to online will continue at a dramatically faster clip than it has these past few years. Publishers who develop innovative new web products and services will be rewarded with increased online revenue growth, but it won't be enough to sustain overall profit margins.
NAME: Julia Allison
TITLE: Editor-at-large, Star magazine; columnist, Time Out New York2008 PREDICTION: Spurred on by Jennifer Love Hewitt standing up for herself on her blog (and reaping the rewards-a TMZ apology doesn't come easy!), celebrities and public figures will realize that they actually have efficacy to counter the gossip disseminated by the MSM, tabloids, and the blogosphere. Previously, their choices were A) hire a publicist or B) remain silent. This year, with the advent of unbelievably simple blogging/video posting tools, we'll see celebrities-for the first time ever-directly communicating with the public. This will in no way stem our desire to discuss these celeb's lives-it will just add a new perspective. Think about it-a three minute YouTube video that Britney/Lindsay or Paris made herself? The entire country would watch, no matter how terrible the lighting.
NAME: Ed Sussman
TITLE: President, Mansueto Digital2008 PREDICTION: Mainstream media will step into social networking in a big way, leveraging the unique advantages of established communities of readers drawn together by powerful brands and content. (Fair disclosure: FastCompany.com, a pioneer in this approach since 1997, will vastly expand its website early next year to blend in content and community.) While some big brands might leverage pure plays such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn to build their communities, many others, eager to reap the commercial benefits of social networking, will build their own networks. In order to achieve scale and create a good experience for their readers, some powerful brands might band together to link their networks, creating effective competitors to the pure plays. If successful in banding together, the dynamic that allowed Yahoo and Google to become more powerful than most of the brands they aggregate, will not be repeated. If unsuccessful, established brands will once again cede a big chunk of online ad revenue to the pure plays.
NAME: Paul Calento
TITLE: SVP, strategic development, InfoWorld2008 PREDICTION: "Measured" growth in b-to-b media will be modest, with expansion coming from under-the-radar opportunities, like new events, new category expansion, or integrated packages around new media types (mobile, video, etc.). Traditional, print-centric b-to-b media will continue to homogenize and struggle, as the opportunities for margin (both for media and their advertisers) fragment, creating growth for the most nimble. From an investment and/or private equity perspective, one existing Tier Two non-tech-focused media company, will be merged or repositioned with underperforming social media assets (second or third tier players, i.e. a company less known than a Facebook or LinkedIn) to increase valuation and audience acquisition (which will translate into monetized revenue in 2009). Many of their competitors will dismiss this move and open themselves up to challenges in the coming years. While a challenging year, those that embrace the diversification of media will see new revenue and expanded margins.
NAME: Chaunce Hayden
TITLE: Editor, Steppin' Out magazine2008 PREDICTION: Howard Stern will go back to terestrial radio by June 2008 ... and Sirius will be no more. I also predict Howard Stern will break up with Beth Ostrosky by November 2008 over his not wanting to have children ... a real sticking point.
NAME: Frank Locantore
TITLE: Director, the Paper Project, Co-op America2008 PREDICTION: The Green Predictions for 2008 can be summed up thusly: growing momentum. We'll see that the increased attention towards the environment over the past year will continue and gain build in 2008. This momentum will become increasingly evident. One Warning: Beware the paper supplier that tells you that burning trees and tree parts (biomass, or biofuels) is carbon neutral. They are selling you a bill of goods that will eventually harm your brand. (See Locantore's expanded predictions here.)
NAME: Chris Shannon
TITLE: Managing director, Berkery Noyes2008 PREDICTION: On the consumer side, M&A will be as busy as it was last year, as far as what's in the funnel. Strategic buyers will make a comeback and play larger role in 2008. Everyone out there that's either buying or selling it has to have a digital component. Next on the priority list for buyers is a mobile component. If you have a magazine to sell, the ones that have a Web site and even just the beginnings of a mobile product definitely have an advantage.
NAME: Laurel Touby
TITLE: mediabistro.com founder and senior VP2008 PREDICTION: A few predictions and some advice ...1. We're hearing that while print budgets are freezing, online budgets are growing considerably.2. The smart companies will leverage their print brands and invest not just by hiring more digital people, but by TRAINING their current teams;3. The smartest magazine companies will simultaneously hedge their bets by purchasing dot.coms that add digital heft and the revenue streams that their print brands aren't (yet) providing; Publishers/Owners, look to acquire sites that have created strong brands, community-style traffic, buzz and multiple revenue streams. Don't be stuck in your magazine-y minds. Buy companies that are going beyond same-old, same-old business models (i.e. be sure the sites don't merely rely on ad sales). Some that are doing it right: Babble.com, TheKnot.com, Etsy.com, JPGmag.com!4. Mag editors need to wake up. It was really cool in 2001 to hate the web. Now, it's really cool to be webby, but you're mostly faking it. You pretend you've embraced digital, but c'mon and admit it, you barely look at your own web site. Coming soon: Every editor will be called upon to be a producer of online content in some fashion. Don't just talk the talk anymore. Surf, read, go to conferences, learn what HTML is and does, learn how to play with images, how to use video, how to build your audience on MySpace. The days when editors are working in print alone are over. Get thee to www.8020publishing.com right away!!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
BoSacks Speaks Out: As my long time readers know, I have been tracking our reading habits for a very long time. The following is a very worthwhile article for all publishers to digest and try to absorb. I would like to add my own "non-research feelings" about the internet, and that is this; With all the hype of the success of internet video the thing that most people do on the web is read. They might listen to music, or see videos, but mostly the internet is about reading. This capability will only get stronger as the platform improves and the generations continue to shift, as generations seem to do. This internet reading is not factored into most studies.
"Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours."
John Locke (English Philosopher who made great contributions in studies of politics, government and psychology. 1632-1704)
Twilight of the Books
What will life be like if people stop reading?
by Caleb Crain
Statistics In 1937, twenty-nine per cent of American adults told the pollster George Gallup that they were reading a book. In 1955, only seventeen per cent said they were. Pollsters began asking the question with more latitude. In 1978, a survey found that fifty-five per cent of respondents had read a book in the previous six months. The question was even looser in 1998 and 2002, when the General Social Survey found that roughly seventy per cent of Americans had read a novel, a short story, a poem, or a play in the preceding twelve months. And, this August, seventy-three per cent of respondents to another poll said that they had read a book of some kind, not excluding those read for work or school, in the past year. If you didn't read the fine print, you might think that reading was on the rise.
You wouldn't think so, however, if you consulted the Census Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts, who, since 1982, have asked thousands of Americans questions about reading that are not only detailed but consistent. The results, first reported by the N.E.A. in 2004, are dispiriting. In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, "To Read or Not to Read," which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, "Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement."
This decline is not news to those who depend on print for a living. In 1970, according to Editor & Publisher International Year Book, there were 62.1 million weekday newspapers in circulation-about 0.3 papers per person. Since 1990, circulation has declined steadily, and in 2006 there were just 52.3 million weekday papers-about 0.17 per person. In January 1994, forty-nine per cent of respondents told the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that they had read a newspaper the day before. In 2006, only forty-three per cent said so, including those who read online. Book sales, meanwhile, have stagnated. The Book Industry Study Group estimates that sales fell from 8.27 books per person in 2001 to 7.93 in 2006. According to the Department of Labor, American households spent an average of a hundred and sixty-three dollars on reading in 1995 and a hundred and twenty-six dollars in 2005. In "To Read or Not to Read," the N.E.A. reports that American households' spending on books, adjusted for inflation, is "near its twenty-year low," even as the average price of a new book has increased.
More alarming are indications that Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability. According to the Department of Education, between 1992 and 2003 the average adult's skill in reading prose slipped one point on a five-hundred-point scale, and the proportion who were proficient-capable of such tasks as "comparing viewpoints in two editorials"-declined from fifteen per cent to thirteen. The Department of Education found that reading skills have improved moderately among fourth and eighth graders in the past decade and a half, with the largest jump occurring just before the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, but twelfth graders seem to be taking after their elders. Their reading scores fell an average of six points between 1992 and 2005, and the share of proficient twelfth-grade readers dropped from forty per cent to thirty-five per cent. The steepest declines were in "reading for literary experience"-the kind that involves "exploring themes, events, characters, settings, and the language of literary works," in the words of the department's test-makers. In 1992, fifty-four per cent of twelfth graders told the Department of Education that they talked about their reading with friends at least once a week. By 2005, only thirty-seven per cent said they did.
The erosion isn't unique to America. Some of the best data come from the Netherlands, where in 1955 researchers began to ask people to keep diaries of how they spent every fifteen minutes of their leisure time. Time-budget diaries yield richer data than surveys, and people are thought to be less likely to lie about their accomplishments if they have to do it four times an hour. Between 1955 and 1975, the decades when television was being introduced into the Netherlands, reading on weekday evenings and weekends fell from five hours a week to 3.6, while television watching rose from about ten minutes a week to more than ten hours. During the next two decades, reading continued to fall and television watching to rise, though more slowly. By 1995, reading, which had occupied twenty-one per cent of people's spare time in 1955, accounted for just nine per cent.
The most striking results were generational. In general, older Dutch people read more. It would be natural to infer from this that each generation reads more as it ages, and, indeed, the researchers found something like this to be the case for earlier generations. But, with later ones, the age-related growth in reading dwindled. The turning point seems to have come with the generation born in the nineteen-forties. By 1995, a Dutch college graduate born after 1969 was likely to spend fewer hours reading each week than a little-educated person born before 1950. As far as reading habits were concerned, academic credentials mattered less than whether a person had been raised in the era of television. The N.E.A., in its twenty years of data, has found a similar pattern. Between 1982 and 2002, the percentage of Americans who read literature declined not only in every age group but in every generation-even in those moving from youth into middle age, which is often considered the most fertile time of life for reading. We are reading less as we age, and we are reading less than people who were our age ten or twenty years ago.
There's no reason to think that reading and writing are about to become extinct, but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special "reading class," much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They warn that it probably won't regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become "an increasingly arcane hobby." Such a shift would change the texture of society. If one person decides to watch "The Sopranos" rather than to read Leonardo Sciascia's novella "To Each His Own," the culture goes on largely as before-both viewer and reader are entertaining themselves while learning something about the Mafia in the bargain. But if, over time, many people choose television over books, then a nation's conversation with itself is likely to change. A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren't foreseeable.
Taking the long view, it's not the neglect of reading that has to be explained but the fact that we read at all. "The act of reading is not natural," Maryanne Wolf writes in "Proust and the Squid" (Harper; $25.95), an account of the history and biology of reading. Humans started reading far too recently for any of our genes to code for it specifically. We can do it only because the brain's plasticity enables the repurposing of circuitry that originally evolved for other tasks-distinguishing at a glance a garter snake from a haricot vert, say.
The squid of Wolf's title represents the neurobiological approach to the study of reading. Bigger cells are easier for scientists to experiment on, and some species of squid have optic-nerve cells a hundred times as thick as mammal neurons, and up to four inches long, making them a favorite with biologists. (Two decades ago, I had a summer job washing glassware in Cape Cod's Marine Biological Laboratory. Whenever researchers extracted an optic nerve, they threw the rest of the squid into a freezer, and about once a month we took a cooler-full to the beach for grilling.) To symbolize the humanistic approach to reading, Wolf has chosen Proust, who described reading as "that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude." Perhaps inspired by Proust's example, Wolf, a dyslexia researcher at Tufts, reminisces about the nuns who taught her to read in a two-room brick schoolhouse in Illinois. But she's more of a squid person than a Proust person, and seems most at home when dissecting Proust's fruitful miracle into such brain parts as the occipital "visual association area" and "area 37's fusiform gyrus." Given the panic that takes hold of humanists when the decline of reading is discussed, her cold-blooded perspective is opportune.
Wolf recounts the early history of reading, speculating about developments in brain wiring as she goes. For example, from the eighth to the fifth millennia B.C.E., clay tokens were used in Mesopotamia for tallying livestock and other goods. Wolf suggests that, once the simple markings on the tokens were understood not merely as squiggles but as representations of, say, ten sheep, they would have put more of the brain to work. She draws on recent research with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that maps blood flow in the brain during a given task, to show that meaningful squiggles activate not only the occipital regions responsible for vision but also temporal and parietal regions associated with language and computation. If a particular squiggle was repeated on a number of tokens, a group of nerves might start to specialize in recognizing it, and other nerves to specialize in connecting to language centers that handled its meaning.
In the fourth millennium B.C.E., the Sumerians developed cuneiform, and the Egyptians hieroglyphs. Both scripts began with pictures of things, such as a beetle or a hand, and then some of these symbols developed more abstract meanings, representing ideas in some cases and sounds in others. Readers had to recognize hundreds of symbols, some of which could stand for either a word or a sound, an ambiguity that probably slowed down decoding. Under this heavy cognitive burden, Wolf imagines, the Sumerian reader's brain would have behaved the way modern brains do when reading Chinese, which also mixes phonetic and ideographic elements and seems to stimulate brain activity in a pattern distinct from that of people reading the Roman alphabet. Frontal regions associated with muscle memory would probably also have gone to work, because the Sumerians learned their characters by writing them over and over, as the Chinese do today.
Complex scripts like Sumerian and Egyptian were written only by scribal élites. A major breakthrough occurred around 750 B.C.E., when the Greeks, borrowing characters from a Semitic language, perhaps Phoenician, developed a writing system that had just twenty-four letters. There had been scripts with a limited number of characters before, as there had been consonants and even occasionally vowels, but the Greek alphabet was the first whose letters recorded every significant sound element in a spoken language in a one-to-one correspondence, give or take a few diphthongs. In ancient Greek, if you knew how to pronounce a word, you knew how to spell it, and you could sound out almost any word you saw, even if you'd never heard it before. Children learned to read and write Greek in about three years, somewhat faster than modern children learn English, whose alphabet is more ambiguous. The ease democratized literacy; the ability to read and write spread to citizens who didn't specialize in it. The classicist Eric A. Havelock believed that the alphabet changed "the character of the Greek consciousness."
Wolf doesn't quite second that claim. She points out that it is possible to read efficiently a script that combines ideograms and phonetic elements, something that many Chinese do daily. The alphabet, she suggests, entailed not a qualitative difference but an accumulation of small quantitative ones, by helping more readers reach efficiency sooner. "The efficient reading brain," she writes, "quite literally has more time to think." Whether that development sparked Greece's flowering she leaves to classicists to debate, but she agrees with Havelock that writing was probably a contributive factor, because it freed the Greeks from the necessity of keeping their whole culture, including the Iliad and the Odyssey, memorized.
The scholar Walter J. Ong once speculated that television and similar media are taking us into an era of "secondary orality," akin to the primary orality that existed before the emergence of text. If so, it is worth trying to understand how different primary orality must have been from our own mind-set. Havelock theorized that, in ancient Greece, the effort required to preserve knowledge colored everything. In Plato's day, the word mimesis referred to an actor's performance of his role, an audience's identification with a performance, a pupil's recitation of his lesson, and an apprentice's emulation of his master. Plato, who was literate, worried about the kind of trance or emotional enthrallment that came over people in all these situations, and Havelock inferred from this that the idea of distinguishing the knower from the known was then still a novelty. In a society that had only recently learned to take notes, learning something still meant abandoning yourself to it. "Enormous powers of poetic memorization could be purchased only at the cost of total loss of objectivity," he wrote.
It's difficult to prove that oral and literate people think differently; orality, Havelock observed, doesn't "fossilize" except through its nemesis, writing. But some supporting evidence came to hand in 1974, when Aleksandr R. Luria, a Soviet psychologist, published a study based on interviews conducted in the nineteen-thirties with illiterate and newly literate peasants in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Luria found that illiterates had a "graphic-functional" way of thinking that seemed to vanish as they were schooled. In naming colors, for example, literate people said "dark blue" or "light yellow," but illiterates used metaphorical names like "liver," "peach," "decayed teeth," and "cotton in bloom." Literates saw optical illusions; illiterates sometimes didn't. Experimenters showed peasants drawings of a hammer, a saw, an axe, and a log and then asked them to choose the three items that were similar. Illiterates resisted, saying that all the items were useful. If pressed, they considered throwing out the hammer; the situation of chopping wood seemed more cogent to them than any conceptual category. One peasant, informed that someone had grouped the three tools together, discarding the log, replied, "Whoever told you that must have been crazy," and another suggested, "Probably he's got a lot of firewood." One frustrated experimenter showed a picture of three adults and a child and declared, "Now, clearly the child doesn't belong in this group," only to have a peasant answer:
Oh, but the boy must stay with the others! All three of them are working, you see, and if they have to keep running out to fetch things, they'll never get the job done, but the boy can do the running for them.
Illiterates also resisted giving definitions of words and refused to make logical inferences about hypothetical situations. Asked by Luria's staff about polar bears, a peasant grew testy: "What the cock knows how to do, he does. What I know, I say, and nothing beyond that!" The illiterates did not talk about themselves except in terms of their tangible possessions. "What can I say about my own heart?" one asked.
In the nineteen-seventies, the psychologists Sylvia Scribner and Michael Cole tried to replicate Luria's findings among the Vai, a rural people in Liberia. Since some Vai were illiterate, some were schooled in English, and others were literate in the Vai's own script, the researchers hoped to be able to distinguish cognitive changes caused by schooling from those caused specifically by literacy. They found that English schooling and English literacy improved the ability to talk about language and solve logic puzzles, as literacy had done with Luria's peasants. But literacy in Vai script improved performance on only a few language-related tasks. Scribner and Cole's modest conclusion-"Literacy makes some difference to some skills in some contexts"-convinced some people that the literate mind was not so different from the oral one after all. But others have objected that it was misguided to separate literacy from schooling, suggesting that cognitive changes came with the culture of literacy rather than with the mere fact of it. Also, the Vai script, a syllabary with more than two hundred characters, offered nothing like the cognitive efficiency that Havelock ascribed to Greek. Reading Vai, Scribner and Cole admitted, was "a complex problem-solving process," usually performed slowly.
Soon after this study, Ong synthesized existing research into a vivid picture of the oral mind-set. Whereas literates can rotate concepts in their minds abstractly, orals embed their thoughts in stories. According to Ong, the best way to preserve ideas in the absence of writing is to "think memorable thoughts," whose zing insures their transmission. In an oral culture, cliché and stereotype are valued, as accumulations of wisdom, and analysis is frowned upon, for putting those accumulations at risk. There's no such concept as plagiarism, and redundancy is an asset that helps an audience follow a complex argument. Opponents in struggle are more memorable than calm and abstract investigations, so bards revel in name-calling and in "enthusiastic description of physical violence." Since there's no way to erase a mistake invisibly, as one may in writing, speakers tend not to correct themselves at all. Words have their present meanings but no older ones, and if the past seems to tell a story with values different from current ones, it is either forgotten or silently adjusted. As the scholars Jack Goody and Ian Watt observed, it is only in a literate culture that the past's inconsistencies have to be accounted for, a process that encourages skepticism and forces history to diverge from myth.
Upon reaching classical Greece, Wolf abandons history, because the Greeks' alphabet-reading brains probably resembled ours, which can be readily put into scanners. Drawing on recent imaging studies, she explains in detail how a modern child's brain wires itself for literacy. The ground is laid in preschool, when parents read to a child, talk with her, and encourage awareness of sound elements like rhyme and alliteration, perhaps with "Mother Goose" poems. Scans show that when a child first starts to read she has to use more of her brain than adults do. Broad regions light up in both hemispheres. As a child's neurons specialize in recognizing letters and become more efficient, the regions activated become smaller.
At some point, as a child progresses from decoding to fluent reading, the route of signals through her brain shifts. Instead of passing along a "dorsal route" through occipital, temporal, and parietal regions in both hemispheres, reading starts to move along a faster and more efficient "ventral route," which is confined to the left hemisphere. With the gain in time and the freed-up brainpower, Wolf suggests, a fluent reader is able to integrate more of her own thoughts and feelings into her experience. "The secret at the heart of reading," Wolf writes, is "the time it frees for the brain to have thoughts deeper than those that came before." Imaging studies suggest that in many cases of dyslexia the right hemisphere never disengages, and reading remains effortful.
In a recent book claiming that television and video games were "making our minds sharper," the journalist Steven Johnson argued that since we value reading for "exercising the mind," we should value electronic media for offering a superior "cognitive workout." But, if Wolf's evidence is right, Johnson's metaphor of exercise is misguided. When reading goes well, Wolf suggests, it feels effortless, like drifting down a river rather than rowing up it. It makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone. Ruskin once compared reading to a conversation with the wise and noble, and Proust corrected him. It's much better than that, Proust wrote. To read is "to receive a communication with another way of thinking, all the while remaining alone, that is, while continuing to enjoy the intellectual power that one has in solitude and that conversation dissipates immediately."
Wolf has little to say about the general decline of reading, and she doesn't much speculate about the function of the brain under the influence of television and newer media. But there is research suggesting that secondary orality and literacy don't mix. In a study published this year, experimenters varied the way that people took in a PowerPoint presentation about the country of Mali. Those who were allowed to read silently were more likely to agree with the statement "The presentation was interesting," and those who read along with an audiovisual commentary were more likely to agree with the statement "I did not learn anything from this presentation." The silent readers remembered more, too, a finding in line with a series of British studies in which people who read transcripts of television newscasts, political programs, advertisements, and science shows recalled more information than those who had watched the shows themselves.
The antagonism between words and moving images seems to start early. In August, scientists at the University of Washington revealed that babies aged between eight and sixteen months know on average six to eight fewer words for every hour of baby DVDs and videos they watch daily. A 2005 study in Northern California found that a television in the bedroom lowered the standardized-test scores of third graders. And the conflict continues throughout a child's development. In 2001, after analyzing data on more than a million students around the world, the researcher Micha Razel found "little room for doubt" that television worsened performance in reading, science, and math. The relationship wasn't a straight line but "an inverted check mark": a small amount of television seemed to benefit children; more hurt. For nine-year-olds, the optimum was two hours a day; for seventeen-year-olds, half an hour. Razel guessed that the younger children were watching educational shows, and, indeed, researchers have shown that a five-year-old boy who watches "Sesame Street" is likely to have higher grades even in high school. Razel noted, however, that fifty-five per cent of students were exceeding their optimal viewing time by three hours a day, thereby lowering their academic achievement by roughly one grade level.
The Internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy. Researchers recently gave Michigan children and teen-agers home computers in exchange for permission to monitor their Internet use. The study found that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online. Even visits to pornography Web sites improved academic performance. Of course, such synergies may disappear if the Internet continues its YouTube-fuelled evolution away from print and toward television.
No effort of will is likely to make reading popular again. Children may be browbeaten, but adults resist interference with their pleasures. It may simply be the case that many Americans prefer to learn about the world and to entertain themselves with television and other streaming media, rather than with the printed word, and that it is taking a few generations for them to shed old habits like newspapers and novels. The alternative is that we are nearing the end of a pendulum swing, and that reading will return, driven back by forces as complicated as those now driving it away.
But if the change is permanent, and especially if the slide continues, the world will feel different, even to those who still read. Because the change has been happening slowly for decades, everyone has a sense of what is at stake, though it is rarely put into words. There is something to gain, of course, or no one would ever put down a book and pick up a remote. Streaming media give actual pictures and sounds instead of mere descriptions of them. "Television completes the cycle of the human sensorium," Marshall McLuhan proclaimed in 1967. Moving and talking images are much richer in information about a performer's appearance, manner, and tone of voice, and they give us the impression that we know more about her health and mood, too. The viewer may not catch all the details of a candidate's health-care plan, but he has a much more definite sense of her as a personality, and his response to her is therefore likely to be more full of emotion. There is nothing like this connection in print. A feeling for a writer never touches the fact of the writer herself, unless reader and writer happen to meet. In fact, from Shakespeare to Pynchon, the personalities of many writers have been mysterious.
Emotional responsiveness to streaming media harks back to the world of primary orality, and, as in Plato's day, the solidarity amounts almost to a mutual possession. "Electronic technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement," in McLuhan's words. The viewer feels at home with his show, or else he changes the channel. The closeness makes it hard to negotiate differences of opinion. It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with.
Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer. It is easy to notice inconsistencies in two written accounts placed side by side. With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information. The trust that a reader grants to the New York Times, for example, may vary sentence by sentence. A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. Like the peasants studied by Luria, he thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.
And he may have even more trouble than Luria's peasants in seeing himself as others do. After all, there is no one looking back at the television viewer. He is alone, though he, and his brain, may be too distracted to notice it. The reader is also alone, but the N.E.A. reports that readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence. No matter how much one worships an author, Proust wrote, "all he can do is give us desires." Reading somehow gives us the boldness to act on them. Such a habit might be quite dangerous for a democracy to lose. ♦
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Posted by Samir Husni
So, how is the magazine business?" a friend whom I have not seen for more than a year asked me. What do you tell someone who has not been on the scene for more than a year?" Great! It has been great," was my answer and I proceeded to tell him, in a true magazine fashion, what I consider as my 7 great magazine moments of 2007:
1. The launch of Condé Nast Portfolio: It single handedly brought back the faith in new magazine launches from a major media company who still considers magazine business as its core business. Thank you S. I. Newhouse Jr., David Carey and Joanne Lipman.
2. The reinvention of Time magazine: The weekly has gone through a major reinvention bringing relevance and intelligence to its contents and readers. The new Time set the stage for changes at both Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Thank you Richard Stengel and Edward McCarrick.
3. The creation of a new genre of man's magazines: The launch of Outside's Go and Men's Health Living magazines created a new genre of man's magazines that cater to non-woman related issues in a man's life. Both magazines are catering to a new niche that has gone unfulfilled for years: travel that meets the needs of the active man and interior design and home that meets the needs of the affluent man. Thank you Larry Burke and David Zinczenko.
4. Giving a new meaning to Garden and Gun: Through the launch of the new regional magazine Garden & Gun the two terms bestowed a new meaning on both of the words. One no longer thinks gardening or guns when they hear the two words, rather they think "21st Century Southern America." Thank you Rebecca Darwin and welcome Sid Evans.
5. The Week is not for sale: With the sale of all the U.S. properties, Dennis Publishing did not include The Week on its "For sale" announcement. Felix Dennis once told me that he is a poor consumer of popular media. "I watch no television, see no movies and couldn't, quite frankly, care less about magazines, with the exception of The Week . . . "Thank you Felix Dennis.
6. The Mook, a new word in the magazine world: Monocle magazine launched in London and few other international cities at the same time, added a new word to the English language and gave a brand new meaning and respect to the world of book-a-zines: The Mook. A magazine that looks and feels like a book, but reads as a magazine with all new content and non of the recycled content book-a-zines accustomed us to see. Thank you Tyler Brulé.
7. The launch of Everywhere and the re-launch of JPG: Both magazines, published by 8020 Publishing, show that a partnership can exist between both technologies: paper and pixels. Just give to paper what is paper's and to pixels what is pixels'. Thank you Paul Cloutier.
So here you have it, 7 great moments in the life of the magazine industry in 2007.I'm looking forward to a great 2008.All the best to all, and here's for a great new year.
min's Exclusive Review of 2007 Magazine Launches: A ("Highlights") "High Five" To "CN Portfolio"/"Outside's Go"/"Sci. Illus."
And to the approximately 647 other 2007 startups counted by University of Mississippi journalism-department chairman/Guide to New Magazines author Samir Husni in min's year-end review. Sum, if it holds, would be the lowest since 1992 (there were about 900 launches in 2006), but Husni is hardly on the "Internet is killing magazines" bandwagon. "I see the reduction as part of a market correction, which periodically happens," he says. "One reason is that although first-year magazines now have a 50% failure rate, those that make it past the first year are surviving longer."
Certainly, Condé Nast Portfolio (in spite of the 2007 Condé Nast closures of House & Garden/Jane;(see page 2) will be one of them. All of the hype and scuttlebutt for CN's first business entry has, says Husni, overshadowed one key fact: "[Rivals] BusinessWeek, Forbes, and Fortune were forced to reinvent themselves. This fall, BW and Fortune redesigned, and Forbes launched Forbes Life Executive Women. They will deny it, but I believe it is in response to CNP's impact."
No such political intrigue with Outside's Go. Mariah Media president Larry Burke, who this year celebrated Outside's 30th anniversary, wanted a men's travel magazine for "on the go" guys like him, and Outside's Go was born in March. Publisher (since February 2007) Walker Mason tells min that Go's quarterly frequency increases to bimonthly in January (rate base from 200,000 to 212,500), with 10 times a year the goal in 2010.
To us Yankees, the April launch of Garden & Gun had the image of Lil' Abner shooting up a turnip patch. But the Southern reality is that Charleston, S.C.- based founding publisher Rebecca Darwin (ex-The New Yorker/Fortune) and her Evening Post Publishing Co. partners filled a void in creating a Tally Ho! magazine for the upscale gentry who garden...and gun. (Magazine is named after a Charleston tavern.) With the November hire of editor-in-chief Sid Evans from Field & Stream, the stakes are raised for what is now a 35,000-circulation quarterly, but Husni --very much a Mississippian here--says that "Rebecca has struck a chord. The G&G lifestyle is strong in the South."
The science-magazine lifestyle was not strong, because there had not been a major launch since Discover in 1980, and, in the interim, several titles--led by Hearst's Science Digest (1986) and General Media International's Omni (1995)--folded. Along comes Popular Science and Time4 Media buyer Bonnier Corp., and this month, management "imported" Science Illustrated from Scandinavia. Plus, Scientific American, which has been in existence since the Mexican War (1845), spun off the quarterlies SciAm Reports in January and SciAm Body in December. "SciAm has a very strong, and underrated, presence," says Husni.
Roy Reiman seemed to be leaving the market when he sold his namesake magazine company to Reader's Digest Association for $760 million in March 2002. In 2007, says Husni, he returned with the bimonthly Our Iowa. Nothing "corny" there, with all of the presidential-campaign money pouring into Reiman's home state in advance of the January 3 caucuses.
Voting is perhaps 16 years away for the Highlights High Five and National Geographic Little Kids preschoolers as two prestigious publishers target the toddlers. Both made Husni's Hottest Launches that he released this fall for min magazine along with, more predictably, CNP/Outside's Go/Garden & Gun. But Husni also went to two extremes in acknowledging the cuddly Ty Pennington at Home (part of the Woman's Day special interest publications), which put the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition star in print, and the return of The Source founder (1988) Dave Mays with the not-so-cuddly Hop Hop Weekly. Said Mays: "We will be the People of our generation."
And the Bond of our generation is not James and a license to kill, but a San Francisco-based magazine celebrating a license to wed: he and she, he and he, and she and she. If that Bond may rile traditionalists (as would a new Barbie magazine sans Ken), they can be reassured by a new quarterly out of Sonoma Co., Calif., called Wag, which further salutes dogs as man's--and woman's--best friend.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Fear and Loathing in Frankfurt
Posted by orionwell
An interesting survey sponsored by the organizers of the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair in October provides some insights into the group mind of publishing industry professionals. As reported in the Independent Publsher reported the survey asked respondents to identify the specific challenges and threats facing the industry and to predict emerging trends and areas of growth. Over 1,300 professionals from 86 countries took part. Respondents were predominantly European (85 percent), with 9% from North America and all other continents represented roughly equally.
Concerns about digitization were strongest in English speaking countries, with 71 percent of North Americans, 77 percent of Australasians and 68 per cent of UK respondents rating this challenge as the most important.
Respondents rated the following as the biggest threat to the publishing industry today:
Competition from other media and sources of entertainment (50 percent)
Over-publishing (31 percent)
Proliferation of piracy (23 percent)
Illiteracy levels in both western Europe and the developing world (17 percent)
Who is actually steering the book industry today, making the decisions that make publishing successful and generate the bestsellers? The survey finds that 37 percent felt that publishers were still key to the success of the industry. Marketing professionals, at 31 percent, were not far behind. 22 percent see the consumer as leading the demand for books - only 8 percent felt that authors drive the industry.
Finally, the industry was asked where the major areas of growth are for the industry in the coming years.
44 percent of respondents identified the use of e-books
41 percent identified audiobooks, many of which are now available as downloads
As the world becomes increasingly globalized, 27 percent of respondents saw books in translation (much of the business of the Frankfurt Book Fair) as a growth area.
27 percent identified educational publishing
You can view the entire survey on the Frankfurter BuchMesse site.
So what should we make of all this? The bogey men identified in the survey seem to be the usual suspects. With the new year looming, I will make my own predictions:
More publishing will not undermine the market for books. To the contrary, it will expand it into new areas. Though the market will continue to fragment into ever finer niches and sub-niches, we will find ever more efficient ways to aggregate the fragments.
e-books will continue to in sales, but like audio books, will remain a small part of the overall publishing market.
The printed book, far from being eclipsed bydigital media, will become a type o digital media itself - think e-paper and conductive ink - and attain a new coolness factor.
The hand-wringing over literacy will turn out to be misguided, much as each generation's hand-wringing over evolving language usage patterns of younger generations.
Authors will become more important than publishers and the various elements of the traditional book marketing machine. Savvy authors will use the Internet both as a vehicle to build an audience while they develop their work, and as a tool to generate low cost, but highly effective market buzz and book sales.
During the next decade or two, we will see the end (or the substantial diminshing) of physical book distribution and the end of book returns. In combination with better analytics for selecting and managing titles, this will make book publishing a highly profitable business.
I believe the future for books and publishers is much brighter than many of our colleagues who filled out the survey in Frankfurt. Unlike many industries, publishing is limited only by the human imagination. As for our fears about the challenges that face us - FDR said it best; the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.