By Jay D. Prince
A recent email from Bob Hanscom, longtime teaching pro at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, directed me to a Jan. 16 posting on the “Let’s Talk” page at SquashSite.co.uk. A poster to the forum asked the following: “Magazines—are they now as relevant as slide rulers?” The gist of the poster’s question was that with the explosive growth of the Internet and “real-time” information that is available on virtually anything (including squash), how can the print form (magazines and newspapers) compete?
It’s a great question. My simple answer is: It’s too early to tell. Clearly, there are things the print publication cannot compete with, particularly tournament results and other instantaneous information that is readily available online. That is part of the reason we stopped printing results three years ago. But the interesting thing about that is that the first request people send me when I ask the question—“If there is something you would like to see in the magazine, what would that be?”—is results. It’s a curious conundrum.
It is easy for us to sit back and simply say magazines and newspapers are becoming a thing of the past. But it’s not a simple thing at all. There are cultural issues, financial issues, and technological components to consider. The most obvious advantage of printed materials is their portability. You can take them anywhere you want and read them anytime you want. Okay, notebook computers are fairly portable, but can you just throw them in your bag (squash, backpack, or briefcase) and start thumbing through them whenever and wherever you want? Not really. If you throw this copy of Squash Magazine into your squash bag, I don’t suppose you’d have any concerns about dropping your bag in your car or on the floor, right? But what if your laptop were in there? Or how about rolling up the magazine to slip it into any convenient small space? Can’t do that with a laptop either.
But aside from the portability issue, I’ve always felt that until magazines or newspapers look and “feel” like the real deal in a digital form, the print publication won’t go away. And the technology is just about there to accomplish this feat. You can download digital versions of lots of magazines today that are run by software that actually gives the digital version the look of a magazine. Click on an arrow, and the page turns on your screen (it doesn’t just redraw something different). Click on a story in the table of contents, and you are instantly taken to that article in the magazine. Pretty cool. But after trying it out for six months with one magazine I subscribe to, the software is much slower than just flipping through paper, and flipping back and forth in the printed publication is much less confusing.
Perhaps the biggest determining factor concerning the future of print publications will be advertising. More and more advertisers are putting their budgets into online advertising. But just as there are lots of companies turning to the Internet to market their products and services, there are just as many that are going back to the more traditional print and broadcast media. Part of the problem is that consumers can just click right past a digital ad. Also, Internet users can choose to go anywhere online in a split second. But when they subscribe to a magazine or newspaper, they can’t just snap their fingers and make the advertising go away. And can you honestly tell me that you never look at the ads in the magazines you read? If you say yes, I won’t believe you. I see them. Sure I sometimes skip over them, but certainly not as easily as I can click away from them online.
In a nutshell, I don’t see the printed publication going the way of the dinosaur. Instead, I see them coexisting with websites so that the two complement each other. Though we’ve not reached our goals with squashmagazine.com due to budget and staffing constraints, we are still working toward making Squash Magazine and squashmagazine.com work together so that both can reach their maximum potential. Tell us what you think?