The Future of Print

It’s always a sad day when a seemingly successful company announces resignations, so when the chief executive and finance director (Stevie Spring and John Bowman) announced their individual departures from Future Publishing during late October, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in contemplating the future of, well, Future.

The resignations come after a turbulent summer for the publisher, which saw 100 staff cut from primarily print roles to make “headroom” for those with digital skills, and to help save £1 million a year. In May this year Future also reported a 45% fall in profit, and this is enough to make any shareholder approach the Annual Results Announcement on November 24th with significantly raised blood pressure. [drop]

There is no denying that these figures suggest a worrying time for Bath’s biggest private employer, but is it simply that or do they highlight the beginning of the end? I sincerely hope that it’s the former, not only because the company plays large part in my own aspirations, but because I think that print is largely beneficial to the industry and also provides a unique experience that simply can’t be replicated by an application or webpage.

But before I justify print’s presence, I think it’s important that we try to understand why the aforementioned figures are in the state that they are in. The somewhat simplistic theory of print becoming a defunct medium is certainly valid, but I fail to believe that the accessibility of the internet is the sole reason for the decline. It could be argued that the current economic climate is where to shift the blame; after all, if people need to save money they will inevitably cut back on leisure activities first, a category of which print firmly falls into.

Of course, it could the fact that print hasn’t evolved enough to meet the demands of a modern demographic; in an age where instant gratification is yearned for, magazines should possibly be smaller and to the point This would not only be an attempt to serve the needs of a shifting demographic (much as the i newspaper has), but would also allow the price of print to drop. Although, then the issue of profitability rears its head; too cheap, and there won’t be any point publishing in the first place.

Whatever the reason, the salient point is that if the current trend continues videogaming will not be represented within the newsagent, and this is something that I think is invaluable in attracting new people to the hobby as well as cementing its part in mainstream culture. I am also yet to find a Smartphone or tablet that fits my lap as comfortably as a magazine when I’m holding a coffee. No, print doesn’t automatically update with news as it happens, but I’m also not being disturbed by incoming texts or emails, allowing me to have a well-deserved break away from the sometimes suffocating world of the internet.

With this lack of connectivity comes something else; a lack of community input. Initially you may find the inability to reply to an article frustrating, but certainly not as frustrating as reading an ignorant and abusive comment from a so-called expert in the field.

[drop2] Cyberspace is never completely reliable either, so if you ever need to reference something or simply need to read about videogames whilst your internet is down, you’re in trouble unless you have a healthy selection of magazines to fall back on. You might think I’m clutching at straws, but only when you have been in one of the said situations will you realise what an amazing resource print can be.

Progression is obviously vital, and major redesigns of EDGE and PSM3 (which are both ace, by the way) highlight that the industry is evolving to combat modern technologies, with increased amounts of exclusive content and even the inclusion of QR codes in an attempt to introduce the interactivity commonly associated with the internet into a print based format. Applications such as Zinio are also emerging as worthwhile alternatives to picking up a magazine in a newsagent, and provide the same quality journalism and insight from within a neat, digital package. Apple newsstand has already seen over 4 million downloads of Future titles since its launch on the 12th October, and hopefully this sets a secure base for things to come.

There is still a large interest in magazines and the content that they provide, and if you are one of those who simply dismiss the medium as being irrelevant in today’s society then I would encourage you to think again. Print harbours so many benefits over pixels, and to lose them would be an absolute tragedy; I eagerly await Future’s annual results later this month, and sincerely hope that they pave the way for a prosperous and successful 2012.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –

33 Comments

  1. It definitely has a future but it won’t be the same as the current situation, in my opinion. Apps like Zinio and Apple’s Newsstand have shown that people still want magazines, they just want them to be cheaper, easier to buy and more interactive. And with the Kindle Fire coming, at least to the US for now, digital magazines are really going to take off.
    Publishers just need to get the pricing right. A lot of people are put off buying digital magazines priced the same as paper ones mainly because the digital ones are just “scans” of the paper ones. After reading a magazine like Esquire or Wired on the iPad, you really expect the same level of polish and presentation when you pay the same for other magazines.
    For me, digital is the way to go. No more piles of read magazines waiting to be recycled. Just on-demand content in an easy to use form.
    I know some people like the feel of a proper magazine though, which is fair enough.

    Just remember to subscribe, and support, your favourite publications.

    • “Cheaper, easier to buy and more interactive” = the Internet! And sites like this compete directly and competently. It want badly for favorites like Edge to survive, but they still need to crack the monetizing of online content. I subscribe though Zinio, and I like it, but as good as it is I’d prefer to not have to choose between reader-style adjustable fonts and the intended layout. And at a risk of deadly TMI, my iPad pretty much IS my bathroom reading.

      • The iPad is everyone’s bathroom reading. ;)

        I find some sites have a terrible layout for tablets though and the sensation of a “magazine” cannot be felt using a lap/desktop. Another big problem is incompatibility but that should start to change with Adobe Flash slowing disappearing.

  2. Totally agree with you, magazines are great, especially for toilet reading. It does make me feel a bit of a dweeb sat on the train with a ps3 magazine, which is where my phone web browser and Tsa comes in, much more discreet.

  3. I bought a copy of Edge from Zinio just yesterday, and think that this is most certainly the future for Future (ha!).

    1) It’s cheaper to buy. £3 for a copy of Edge versus £5 off the shelves, and even cheaper in subscriptions.
    2) Zinio is very cross platform. Android, iOS, desktop… Even the HP Touchpad got a little love. (That’s where I bought it) Like Steam, if you can download the client and log in, you can read
    3) Edge’s print translates very, very well to digital. The layout is nice, with plenty scope for improvement.
    4) Download speeds were snappy. Just 30MB for the issue, so that’s just a minute or two on any decent connection, ready for offline reading.

    However, there’s a lot that needs to be done to make this a real format. A monthly periodical is not a good fit for devices that can get all this information at the time that it’s happening. More needs to be done to really make it a more interactive experience.

    That means the layout needs to be tailored better to the tablet and smartphone. They can maintain the style, but the text, when viewing a full page on a tablet is just on the cusp of being too small. Images need to be zoomable pop-ups with a double tap. Full page adverts need to be banished or at least marginalised. Even a shift from monthly to something weekly or fortnightly in digital would work well. No extra content, maybe, but it’d feel much more up-to-date.

    The fact that a website like Eurogamer has just relaunched with specific layouts for the different devices just emphasises the need for this new avenue of profit to be explored, expanded and optimised for.

    • I think there’s still a long tail that can be enjoyed with the actual magazines, by the way. Plenty people don’t have tablets still, and smartphones are not a good enough fit for this kind of thing, in my opinion.
      Magazines also don’t have batteries, and can be read in many unusual situations better than a tablet can.

  4. I used to subscribe to one of Future Publishing’s mags back in the early days of the PS2 but for quite a while now I get most gaming info from the web, mostly from TSA.

    • So what you’re saying is, TSA killed magazines? ;)

      • Yep, that’s about it.

      • For me it did, its free and better! best of both worlds, oh, and I don’t have to leave the house to get it…

  5. Some things just can’t be done on paper.
    I used to subscribe to Empire magazine, but not I subscribe to it on iPad.
    It’s not because it’s cheaper (but it is) as that wouldn’t be enough for me to decide the actual printed copy would somehow not be worth it.
    But the app can include video clips, audio clips, etc.
    Basically, if you are going to migrate your magazine to an app or whatever, make it actually better, not worse.

    Otherwise, print magazines won’t be beaten, just reduced.

  6. I can’t remember the last time I bought a magazine! I find them interesting, but just too expensive for the little amount of time I spend with them. Cheaper digital ones could certainly tempt me back though if they are easy to read.

  7. unfortunatly no, i was a subscriber to PC Zone from 1999 all the way to its death recently it never lost its charm or well written articles but due to the internet and the ease at which any gamer could get news as it happened what once was the biggest selling gaming magazine dwindled until it was no longer profitable to make.
    oh how i miss the back page, from mr cursor and charlie brooker all the way to the last mag…*sniffs*

    • Same here mate. Really pee’d off when they auto-switched me to a PC Gamer sub. If I wanted that mag, I’d have brought that mag.

      • i was furious, us zoners always sneered at that mag and then it dropped through my letterbox! :D

  8. I’ve been getting a PSM3 subscription for the past 2 or 3 years and while I do read it and enjoy traditional paper, I definitely don’t get into it as much as I used to thanks to the Internet and TSA.

  9. It’s just hard to justify paying £5-6 for month old information.

  10. I subscribe to a few different magazines (Edge, Games tm and non gaming related: Empire at the moment). They take up lots of room even despite recycling them often but they offer one pivotal thing above digital subscriptions: I can read them in the bath without fear of wrecking my iPad! :)

    • Certainly an iPad isn’t much use if you run out of loo roll, but aside from that, how would you wreck your iPad?!

Comments are now closed for this post.